Medical Q&As

Hospital reports - poor communication?

My elderly mother recently underwent treatment in hospital under a consultant following referral by her GP. After being discharged from the hospital the consultant advised that a report would be sent to the GP. My mother was discharged from hospital in early December 2001 and would have paid a subsequent visit to her GP in Jan 2002. At that stage there was no report from the consultant to the GP. Another visit to the GP was required in April 2002 and when questioned the GP confirmed that a report from the consultant had been received. My mother was not informed of the report nor of the details contained within. During her visit where I was in attendance the GP was asked for details of the report and these were given. My point relates to access of information and how GP's relate to their patients. 1) Is there any duty on GP's to inform patients of reports that they (the GP's) receive about them. 2) Should it not be a matter of form that doctors would inform patients that a report has been received and to inform and explain to the patients the contents of the report? In my experience both personally and through my mother there is reluctance on GPs to discuss or enter into dialogue in explaining reports or results obtained through other practitioners. Do you have any views on this?

I note the fact that your comments make no reference to the responsibilities of consultants in communicating with their patients. Presumably the consultant had a great deal of information about your mother while she was in hospital however none of that information seems to have been given to your mother. I fully accept the broad trust of your question about the importance of communication between doctors and patients. I would go further by stating that good communication is the cornerstone of good medical practice and should be exhibited by all doctors in clinical practice and that includes those working in the hospitals as well as in the community. Some consultants absolve themselves of explaining matters to their patients by saying that the GP will receive a detailed report in the post thereby creating the expectation that the GP will have the fullest information and be in a position to answer any questions that are posed by the family. Unfortunately such letters can be less than useless because they may lack the very details that the GP requires. Lengthy letters containing a plethora of results are less useful than the clear expression of an opinion on diagnosis, treatment plan and prognosis. After all most GP referrals are for the purpose of obtaining an expert opinion not a computer readout. I concur with the views implied in the two questions that you have enumerated. Information about a personís condition should be shared with a person subject to the caveat that they wish to receive that information. It would be wrong to assume that everybody wants to know everything about his or her condition. The real challenge in the consultation is to communicate information sensitively and in a form that the person can readily understand. That includes all information that may be in the doctorís possession. There is no argument about a patientís right to know.