Book aims to heal doctor-patient ties

COMMUNICATION::The book uses 60 story illustrations of common patient complaints to show how to deal with them and enhance understanding between the two sides

By Chung Li-hua and Jason Pan  /  Staff reporter, with staff writer

Tue, Sep 10, 2013 - Page 5

With government statistics showing that an average of 36.7 doctors face medical litigation each year, the relationship between doctors and patients has deteriorated to critical proportions.

More physicians are adopting a “defensive medicine” approach as a safeguard against possible malpractice suits.

In a bid to remedy the situation, Taipei Medical University has published a comic book entitled Complete Record of Doctor-Patient Interaction.

It presents 60 real-life cases, depicted in a series of four-panel cartoons. Through the cartoon illustrations and light-hearted treatment, the book aims to improve doctor-patient communication and foster mutual understanding.

The book deals with common patient complaints, such as: “I came here first, why is the doctor not seeing me first?” and “I will be going abroad tomorrow. Why can’t I get my supply of prescription medicine for the next two months today?”

As explained in the book, the emergency ward is not run on a first-come, first-served basis: The physician has to treat urgent cases first.

As for people going abroad, they have to show their flight tickets or other documentation to receive their requested medicine, according to health regulations.

In one of the cases in the book, an elderly in-patient kept calling the nursing center for help to go to the washroom or to say that he was hungry. The patient then complained of poor service, when the nurse failed to promptly attend to his needs.

After he was given an explanation, the man understood that nurses have to care for many patients in the hospital, and that he was not being neglected.

“Communication problems leading to misunderstanding are the main cause of the strained doctor-patient relationship. This accounts for about 70 to 80 percent of all medical litigation cases,” said Cheng Hsin-chung (鄭信忠), head of the university’s dentistry department, who was responsible for planning and supervising the comic book project.

Most doctors share the same level of competence, and the only real difference is in “communication skills” and “empathy for patients,” he said, adding that doctors must try to put themselves in the patients’ shoes.

Cheng said that in dentistry, an injection is needed in some cases, but patients are often not willing to have the needle for fear of pain.

“If the dentist responds by asking: ‘‘What are you afraid of? There is always some pain with a needle injection,’ this would only lead to psychological conflict between the two sides,” Cheng said.

“Instead, he could say: ‘I understand that you are afraid of pain, but as your doctor I don’t want any more pain than is necessary to treat you.’ It is better this way,” Cheng said.

University officials said that the first 8,000 copies will be distributed to the Taiwan Hospital Association and the Taiwan Medical Association.

Copyright charges will be lifted, so that more hospitals and medical organizations can print and distribute the comic book to the public, they said.