New AHRQ Initiative: Questions are the Answer For Better Doctor-Patient Communication

Ask Questions of Your DoctorsOn Tuesday, September 20, the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ), part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS), along with the Ad Council, a non-profit organization, launched a new Questions are the Answer initiative to encourage patients to ask questions of their doctors and to improve doctor-patient communication, with the aim of “ensur[ing] safer care and better health outcomes.”

According to a September 20, 2011 release issued by HHS, “For nearly a decade, AHRQ has encouraged patients to be more involved in their health care, and this new initiative builds on previous public education campaigns AHRQ has conducted under contract with the Ad Council around the theme ‘Questions are the Answer.”

“Research shows that better communication correlates with higher rates of patient compliance with treatment plans,” AHRQ said in its release. “This improved compliance can lead to better blood sugar control for patients with diabetes, for example,” the release stated.

“We know that when patients and clinicians communicate well, care is better. But in today’s fast-paced health care system, good communication isn’t always the norm,” said AHRQ Director Carolyn M. Clancy, M.D. “This campaign reminds us all that effective communication between patients and their health care team is important and that it is possible—even when time is limited.”

As part of the Questions are the Answer initiative, a new series of videos has been posted on the AHRQ Web site. As described in the HHS release,

“These videos feature real patients and clinicians discussing the importance of asking questions and sharing information. Several patients discuss how good communication helped them avoid medication errors or get a correct diagnosis. Clinicians stress the benefits of having their patients prepare for medical appointments by bringing a prioritized list of the questions they wish to cover.”

In one of the featured videos, Bill Lee, a patient from Baltimore who has suffered 10 heart attacks since 2004, maintains that good communication with his doctor has been the key to managing his heart disease and diabetes successfully. “I used to think, he’s a doctor, who am I to ask a question?” Bill Lee says. “If I had not started asking questions of my doctors, I honestly think I’d be dead today,” he states.

The AHRQ website also features new “Tips and Tools” to help patients be prepared for their medical appointments and implement proper follow-up after appointments. The new tools include:

  • An interactive “Question Builder” tool that enables patients to create, prioritize and print a personalized list of questions based on their health condition;
  • A brochure, titled “Be More Involved in Your Health Care: Tips for Patients,” that offers helpful suggestions and guidelines to follow before, during and after a medical visit; and
  • Notepads designed for use in medical offices to help patients prioritize the top three questions they wish to address during their appointment.

Clinicians and medical organizations are invited to co-brand and offer the brochure and notepads to their patients.

The new phase of the Questions are the Answer initiative also includes public service ads directed at doctors and clinicians. The new ads feature the message that “a simple question can reveal as much important information as a medical test.”

The new ads for clinicians were created pro bono by the advertising agency LLNS, and will run in donated space this fall in several print and online medical journals, including the New England Journal of Medicine, the Journal of the American Medical Association, American Family Physician, Annals of Internal Medicine, Journal of the American Academy of Physician Assistants, Journal for Nurse Practitioners and others.

“We are proud to continue our efforts with AHRQ on this campaign that will continue to raise awareness about the importance of asking questions and having a dialogue with your clinician,” said Peggy Conlon, president and CEO of the Ad Council. “The new video series clearly illustrates the critical roles of both the patient and the clinician and truly captures the benefits of the dialogue in improving health care outcomes.”

The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) is part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). AHRQ’s mission is to improve the quality, safety, efficiency and effectiveness of health care for all Americans. AHRQ’s research helps people make more informed decisions and improve the quality of health care services.

The Ad Council is a private, non-profit organization with a rich history of marshalling volunteer talent from the advertising and media industries to deliver critical messages to the American public. Having produced literally thousands of PSA campaigns addressing the most pressing social issues of the day, the Ad Council has effected, and continues to effect, tremendous positive change by raising awareness, inspiring action and saving lives.

More Information

For more information on the Questions are the Answer initiative, see the AHRQ Questions are the Answer website, or contact AHRQ Public Affairs at: (301) 427-1248 or (301) 427-1865.

See also the HelpingYouCare™ reports on:

Study Finds Medical History Key to Correct Diagnosis

The Importance of a Second or Even Third Opinion

Can a Patient Know Too Much? Are You Annoying Your Doctors?

And see the HelpingYouCare™ resource pages on:

Practical Tips, Skills, Checklists & Tools for Caregiving and

The Family Caregiver as Care Manager: A Crucial Role

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Copyright © 2011 Care-Help LLC, publisher of HelpingYouCare™.

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