Empower patients to take an active role in their care by interpreting medical reports

Whenever I see a patient for the first time in my specialty infertility clinic, I ask her to bring her records with her and to interpret her own medical reports. This gives me a good sense of how much the patient understands about her medical problem and treatment options.


Aniruddha Malpani, MD“I think doctors get the patients they deserve, and patients get the doctors they deserve.”
-Aniruddha Malpani, MD, medical director of Malpani Infertility Clinic in Mumbai, India


However, many times patients look completely blank and are have no idea what the information contained in the report means. Some patients even become uneasy that a doctor is asking them to do this. After all, isn’t it the doctor’s job to[s2If !is_user_logged_in()]…

[/s2If][s2If is_user_logged_in()] interpret medical reports?

Key Point: Patients who are empowered to understand their conditions and treatment plan will be partners in their own care and are more like to adhere to the treatment plan that you establish.

Before I start advising a patient, I first need to understand exactly what she understands about her conditions, which is why I ask her these basic questions. Patients should partner with you by taking an active role in their own care and treatment, and a patient who doesn’t understand her own medical reports either didn’t get the correct type of medical guidance prior to coming to your practice or isn’t interested in trying to make sense of her own issues.

In this day and age, there is no good excuse for an educated patient not to understand her own medical conditions and treatment, because there is so much information available on the World Wide Web that is reliable, current, and easy to understand. You can help patients become partners in their own care by directing them to reliable, accurate sources of information online—on your clinic’s Web site and by earmarking other resources that have your seal of approval.

Patient-doctor partnership

If I ask a patient to interpret her medical reports and she doesn’t understand their significance, I explain to her why it’s important to take an active interest in her treatment. I tell her that becoming engaged in her own care is in her best interest because this ensures she has realistic expectations of exactly what I can do for her.

Intelligent patients understand that I have their best interests at heart, and that going forward, we can create a win-win partnership to maximize their chances of success. However, there are some patients who get quite irritated with my criticism and decide that I’m not the right doctor for them. These are patients who decide not to come to my practice and find another doctor. I am actually okay with this; let me explain why.

I think doctors get the patients they deserve, and patients get the doctors they deserve. The chemistry between the doctor and the patient needs to be right, and I prefer treating patients who take an active interest in their treatment and are well informed, rather than those who couldn’t be bothered to do so. This approach allows me to focus my energies on patients who understand the importance of information therapy, and have a philosophy about their care that is compatible with mine. This usually results in a stronger doctor-patient relationship and ultimately, more successful treatment.

Whether you have a primary care or specialty practice, more informed and educated patients are typically more adherent to their treatment plans—which improves the potential success of the care that you are providing. I would encourage you to give this approach a try with your patients. Please check back once you have and add your perspectives by using the “comments” feature on this page.

Aniruddha Malpani, MD Dr. Malpani is medical director of Malpani Infertility Clinic in Mumbai, India, medical director of the HELP-Health Education Library for People, and author of a physician and patient education blog. He is an angel investor in Plus 91, which offers customized Web sites for doctors.

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