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AAMC 2014: Can Physicians Learn to Listen to all Patients?


Alan Alda gave the keynote address at this year’s convention of the Association of American Medical Colleges. His message - make sure you know your patient's story. Brenda Rogers, M.D., at the University of Missouri, Kansas City School of Medicine, shares a couple examples of how not getting the patient's story got in the way of providing the best care.

Announcer: Broadcasting from the Algorithms for Innovation booth at the AAMC in Chicago. The Healthcare Insider is on The Scope, University of Utah Health Sciences Radio.

Rogers: When Alan Alda talks about the methods of communication, that's really impactful and it's something that I try to teach the students too, is that you have to sit down and listen to patients. They'll tell you their stories. It helps you figure out how to take care of them. As an example, we had a patient recently who . . . we were trying to figure out how best to manage his diabetes, and the diabetes educator came in and came up with a great plan for him. Wonderful. Insulin, you know. This is how you're going to check your blood sugar, and so on. The problem is he's homeless. You need a refrigerator for insulin. So insulin's not going to work for this guy. So you have to know the story. You have to sit down and listen to him and know the story and say, "We're not going to optimize your diabetes management, but we're going to do the best we can with what we have."

Interviewer: With the circumstances, yeah, exactly. And the thing that they talked about today that Alan Alda talked about that I loved is asking them, "Now, explain to me the way you understand what we just talked about." Which is in the textbook. It says that's one of the steps of being a good listener is have the person explain it back to you.

Rogers: Yes. You think you did a great job of explaining it, empathy and clarity, just like he talked about this morning, and they explain it back to you and it's completely different. Another example is when I came up with the perfect plan to treat a child's constipation. I mean, it was brilliant. It was brilliant. And the interpreter that I was using told me, "That plan's never going to work because everything you outlined is not in their cultural diet so this kid's never going to eat what you just told them to eat. So it's not going to work."

Interviewer: And luckily, somebody there was in that instance to tell you that.

Rogers: Yes, which is great because I'm like, "Okay. Scratch that one. Now let's start over. What do you eat? How can we do something here?"

Interviewer: Communication issues and cultural issues, all very difficult.

Announcer: Sparking conversations to transform academic medicine. For more, stop by our booth at the AAMC or go to, University of Utah Health Sciences Radio.

By: Scot Singpiel

Scot Singpiel is senior producer for