Talking about diabetes – improving health, one sentence at a time
Primary care physicians can improve their communication to newly-diagnosed diabetes patients by offering more
information specific to the patient’s experience, new research from Otago, Auckland and Victoria universities shows.
The study, just published in the international journal Annals of Family Medicine, highlights the importance of good and appropriate communication by healthcare professionals to patients.
For six months, the researchers tracked and videoed all the interactions between healthcare professionals and 32
patients newly diagnosed with type 2 diabetes.
“Despite many health professionals having high communication and technical skill levels, our study found that there are
many opportunities to communicate and consult more effectively with these patients,” says lead author Professor Tony
Dowell from the University of Otago, Wellington.
The research team found strengths in primary care interactions including high levels of communication skills, enthusiasm
to coordinate services, and significant allocation of time with patients.
But for optimal care, better communication is needed.
The study found that initial consultations between primary care clinicians and patients who are newly diagnosed with
type 2 diabetes are often driven by biomedical explanations which are out of context from patient experience.
“Patients who have just been diagnosed with diabetes or other long-term conditions bring their own expertise and
experience to the situation and healthcare professionals need to listen to this. We need to re-think our usage of
technical biomedical language when talking to these patients,” Professor Dowell suggests.
“Despite the high levels of generic communication expertise by clinicians, many patients found the style and content of
health promotion and lifestyle advice did not apply to their lives.”
Patients were also concerned about the overuse of checklists, and suggested a need for more effective methods of sharing
Professor Dowell and colleagues note there was also a perception of time pressure but considerable time was spent with
patients by health professionals repeating information that may not be relevant to patient need.
“The time that patients spend with health providers could be allocated more effectively and efficiently when patients
see multiple clinicians,” he says.
“Although there has been a huge amount of research into diabetes, this is the first study to directly observe the
patient journey and interactions with different health professionals from the onset of diabetes.
“Our results highlight the important role that communication plays in diabetes management, and the overall commitment of
primary care teams to delivering patient care,” Professor Dowell says.
The authors recommend that clinicians employ a framework for communications with diabetes patients that acknowledges the
importance of the patient’s own particular situation and social needs. They suggest that time could be allocated more
effectively and efficiently when patients see multiple clinicians.
“Our main aim is to improve our patients’ health, and this research shows that appropriate communication with patients
is a key component.
“The research makes us appreciate the importance of listening more and possibly talking less in consultations. It helps
with understanding and improving health care one sentence at a time,” says Prof Dowell.
Full paper title: A Longitudinal Study of the Interactions Between Health Professionals and People Newly Diagnosed With
Diabetes Dowell A, et al. Ann Fam Med.2018;doi:10.1370/afm.2144.
Video of Professor Tony Dowell speaking about this research: https://youtu.be/SFtOVdc1ck8
More information on the research here