Healthcare Communication is Different Online

There are thousands of books on doctor-patient communication. There are courses, seminars and modules during medical school all dedicated to healthcare communication. The content reflects the importance of communication in medicine. The ‘study’ of communication in medicine does not solely exist to ensure the patient has understood the diagnosis, upcoming investigation or therapeutic pathway. Communications role in medicine runs much deeper. A healthcare professional’s words can improve or harm the health of the patient. Communication is learned about in medical school because it is a drug and tailoring the dose and delivery of the drug is essential in practicing good medicine. This drug cannot be fully understood from a text book, experience of communicating with patients from all walks of life, on topics of varying severity, will hone a healthcare professionals ability to communicate successfully. It is not just the health of the patient in play, the health of their friends and family is also affected by the words that leave a healthcare professionals lips. The best communicators are trained to deliver the worst possible news, you are terminally ill or that your loved one has died.

Traditional Healthcare Communication

In a traditional arena we develop a true understanding of the subtleties of healthcare communication. When to deliver a harsh does up front without sugar coating and when to weaken and dilute our communication so not to offend or frighten. We deal in just the right amount of reassurance to protect a patients psychological health, without blinding them to the worst case scenario. We coerce people to join support groups and stay militant with their tablet taking – we tailor our communication based on our perception of an individual’s need. These skills have been learned over hundreds of years and are suitable for the arena – face to face consultations. Face to face we can use our evolutionary-sharp assessment of another person’s words and signals to pivot, tailor and refine our message. A two way dance that as healthcare professionals we learn to master.

But now we have the internet a one way channel like a megaphone at the mouth of the health industry sticking into the general population. We are not trained at medical school to use the microphone – I would suggest this is why so many healthcare professionals are fearful of it. We use the microphone with the same rules of any industry but we forget that the receiver of health communication is much more emotionally charged and vulnerable. As an industry, healthcare needs to better understand how to communicate health information online. We will probably never get to the stage where it information is as dynamically, insightfully and sensitively communicated as it is in a one to one consultation with a trained medical professional, but it can improve massively. The Health Click teaches what I have learned through years of communicating health information online and the creation of thousands of articles. We teach the healthcare industry to successfully communicate to patients and more importantly, to teach those tools patients need to safely search for health information online.

Patient Responsibility to Ourselves

As patients we have so many psychological ‘flaws’ that make the internet a potentially risky method for gaming healthcare information. We need to understand that to sit at the other end of the megaphone and turn our ear to it, leaves us vulnerable to the psychological pitfalls of poorly communicated medical information.  This is why much of the healthcare industry advises to tread carefully when searching for health information online. Not because we are scared or secretive about the content, nor because we are worried about a loss of power or control, we just understand that healthcare communication can affect a person’s health and as people we are only now being given the tools to protect ourselves when consuming health information online.