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Understanding your doctor is not always easy – or your fault

October 28, 2021 – Nearly two-thirds of Americans are not confident that they understand their doctor’s recommendations and the health information they discussed with their doctor after a visit, according to a new survey.

Confusion over health information and physician advice is even greater among people who care for patients than among those who do not provide care to their loved ones, the nationally representative survey of the AHIMA Foundation found.

The survey also shows that 80% of Americans – and an even larger proportion of caregivers – are likely to research medical recommendations online after a doctor’s visit. But 1 in 4 people do not know how to access their own medical records or find it difficult to do so.

The findings reflect the same low level of health literacy in the U.S. population who did previous surveys. The results also indicate that little has changed since the Department of Health and Human Services a National Action Plan to improve health literacy in 2010.

That plan highlighted the need to develop and share accurate health information that helps people make decisions; to promote changes in the health care system that improve health information, communication, informed decision-making and access to health services; and to increase the sharing and use of evidence-based health literacy practices.

According to the AHIMA Foundation report, 62% of Americans are not sure they understand their doctor’s advice and the health information discussed during a visit. Twenty-four percent say they do not understand anything about it, and 31% do not remember what was said during the visit. Fifteen percent of those surveyed said they were more confused about their health than they were before meeting with their doctor.

Caregivers have special problems

Forty-three percent of Americans are caregivers, the report says, and 91 percent of them play an active role in managing someone else’s health. Millennials (65%) and Gen Xers (50%) are significantly more likely than Gen Zers (39%) and Boomers (20%) to be caregivers.

Most caregivers are concerned about their loved ones’ ability to manage their own health. Most of them believe that doctors provide enough information, but 38% do not believe that a doctor can communicate effectively with the patient if the caregiver is not present.

Forty-three percent of caregivers do not think their loved ones can understand medical information on their own. On the other hand, caregivers are more likely than people who do not care to say the doctor has confused them and seek the doctor’s advice after an appointment.

For many patients and caregivers, communication breaks down when they are with their healthcare provider. Twenty-two percent of Americans say they do not feel comfortable asking their doctor certain health questions. This inability to have a satisfactory dialogue with their physician means that many patients leave their appointments without getting clear answers to their questions (24%) or without the opportunity to ask any questions (17%).

This is not surprising, as a 2018 study found that doctors spend only 11 seconds, on average, listen to patients before interrupting them.

Depending on the internet

Overall, the AHIMA survey found that 42% of Americans examine their doctor’s recommendations after an appointment. A higher percentage of caregivers than non-caregiver peers do so (47% vs. 38%). Eighty percent of respondents say they are “likely” to seek their doctor’s advice online after a visit.

When they have a medical problem or question about their condition, just as many Americans (59%) turn to the Internet for an answer as contacting their doctor directly, the survey found. Twenty-nine percent of respondents consult friends, family, or colleagues; 23% look up medical records if they are easily accessible; 19% ask pharmacists for advice; and 6% call an unspecified 800 number.

Americans feel safe in the health information they get on the internet. Among those who go online to search for information, 86% are confident that it is credible. And 42% report that they feel relieved that they can find a lot of information about their health care. Respondents also say that the information they gather enables them to feel more confident in their doctor’s recommendations (35%) and that they feel better after learning more on the internet than their doctor told them (39%). %). Men are more likely than women to say that their confidence in their doctor’s recommendations has increased after doing online research (40% vs. 30%).

Access to Health Records

Access to medical records will help people better understand their condition or diagnosis. But nearly half of Americans (48%) admit they do not usually review their medical records until long after an appointment, and 52% say they do not have access to their records at all.

One in four Americans say they do not know where to go to access their health information or that they have not found the process easy. More than half of those who have never had to find their records think the process will be difficult if they have to try.

Eighty-one percent of Americans use an online platform or portal to access their medical records or health information. Two-thirds of Americans who use an online portal trust that their medical information is stored securely and not shared with other people or organizations.

Four out of five respondents agree that if they had access to all of their health information, including medical records, recommendations, conditions, and test results, they would see an improvement in their health management. Fifty-nine percent of them believe they will also have more confidence in understanding their health, and 47% say they will have greater confidence in their doctor’s recommendations. Higher percentages of caregivers than non-caregivers say the same thing.

Younger people, those with a high school diploma or less, and those earning less than $ 50,000 are less likely than older, better educated, and more affluent people to understand their doctor’s health information and ask questions to their providers.

Colored people struggle with their relationships with doctors, are less satisfied than white people with the information they receive during visits, and are more likely than white peers to feel that if they had access to all their health information, they would be managing their health be better and more confident in their doctors’ recommendations, the survey found.

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