How to Talk to Patients

The Annals of Internal Medicine used to give advice to doctors about improving our communication with patients so they would understand their diseases and take their medicine. That’s no longer enough. Now, The Annals is telling us to conduct seminars on peripherally related scientific topics. According to the article, Strategies for Clinical Discussions About Climate Change:

Physicians can build into clinical discussions brief educational messages relevant to the patient’s medical needs. Such messaging can be as simple as, “Climate change is causing allergy season to start earlier and making plants produce more pollen. This may explain why your allergies are acting up now.” 

“You mentioned that your breathing gets worse on hot days. We know the climate is warming, and this makes it hard for some to breathe. Would it be all right if we discussed this, and I shared some information that I think you might find helpful? I am always here if you want to learn more about how climate can harm health.”

Thanks for the script, but seriously– who talks like that? And what do patients think? They just want the wheezing to go away. If they are interested in root causes, there’s always google.

Besides, I’m not a climatologist, I’m a medical doctor. It takes a lot of time just to keep up with all the new inhalers available for COPD. I just don’t have the time to critically evaluate the literature on global warming. On the other hand, I have thoroughly reviewed the literature on the origins of coronavirus. So, here is a script you might want to use if you want to give lectures on public health topics.

“You mentioned your whole family got very sick with COVID. They certainly made a strong virus in that Wuhan lab. What a coincidence that the outbreak started in the one city in the world with a lab that specializes in SARS-like coronaviruses. Would it be all right if we discussed this, and I shared some information that I think you might find helpful? Do you know that they were performing gain of function research on bat coronaviruses at the Wuhan Institute of Virology and it was funded by the US government? Many independent scientists believe the lab origin hypothesis is the most likely theory of how COVID started. I am always here if you want to talk more about the lab origin of the COVID virus.” 

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