What Brings You In Today?

November 13, 2019

Photo by Leslie Walker

Health care leaders are spending more time and money trying to improve how doctors and nurses communicate with their patients. Are those efforts working?

This episode features four unique vignettes that together illustrate both the promise and peril of the patient-provider relationship. Listen to the full episode above, or scroll down to explore the individual stories of doctors and nurses striving to build more trusting relationships with their patients.

We Went There

In asking for some simple details about family medical history, Dr. Sumeera Baig unwittingly hijacks an appointment with her new patient Barbara. How she handles the next few seconds could either bring Barbara back into the momentor push her away, possibly for good. Read the full story.

Listen to the story:

‘Fake Patients’

“I’ve never done this before. I just hope she doesn’t give me too hard of a time,” said Nurse Practitioner Kathy Trow as she waited to see Lorna, her patient. Lorna is actually an actor specially trained to help doctors and nurses practice their communication skills. But the challenges she poses for Kathy are very real. Read the full story.

Listen to the story:

Great Expectations

Natalie Levinson is one of 50 kids receiving the same novel treatment for peanut allergies. But doctors have told only half of the kids that their rashes, itching or other reactions to the treatment are a positive sign that their bodies are actually getting stronger. Will the power of the doctors’ words have any effect on Natalie? Read the full story.

Listen to the story:


Common Ground

Medical resident Hannah Herman feels good about her relationships with her patients even though most of them come from very different backgrounds than she does. She has worked hard to connect with them, asking about their kids, their jobs and their lives. And yet, Hannah has a blind spot. Read the full story.

Listen to the story:

People from the Pod

Meet some of the people featured in this episode.

Dr. Sumeera Baig
Dr. Sumeera Baig from "We Went There"
Dr. Andrea Anderson
Dr. Andrea Anderson from "Common Ground"
Dr. Lisa Cooper
Dr. Lisa Cooper from "Common Ground"
Calvin Chou headshot
Dr. Calvin Chou
Dr. Jeff Millstein headshot
Dr. Jeff Millstein from "Fake Patients"
Kathy Trow from "Fake Patients"

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Episode Credits

This episode was reported by Leslie Walker and Dan Gorenstein. It was mixed by Andrew Parrella. It was produced for the web by Leslie Walker.

Additional thanks to: Jody Becker, Dr. Gurpreet Dhaliwal, Dr. Chuka Didigu, Dr. Evan Walker, Carrie Hartman and the Tradeoffs Advisory Board.

Episode Resources

On Approaches to Improving Clinical Communication:

Academy of Communication in Healthcare

Annotated Bibliography on Countering Bias to Improve Health Outcomes (Institute for Healthcare Communication, 2019)

Comparing Three Approaches to Improve Communication Between Patients and Their Doctors (Tai-Seale, PCORI, 2016-2022)

​​Improving Clinician-Parent Communication to Reduce Antibiotic Misuse (Goggin, PCORI, 2016-2020)

Technology-Enhanced Simulation for Health Professions Education: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis (Cook, Hatala & Brydges, JAMA, 2011)

On the Impact of Communication on Patient Health & Satisfaction:

Effects of Empathic and Positive Communication in Healthcare Consultations: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis (Howick et al, Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine, 2018)

Influence of Information Framing on Patient Decisions to Treat Actinic Keratosis (Berry, Butt & Kirby, JAMA Dermatology, 2017)

Changing Patient Mindsets about Non–Life-Threatening Symptoms During Oral Immunotherapy: A Randomized Clinical Trial (Howe et al, Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, 2019)

On Implicit Bias & Disparities:

Doctors and Racial Bias: Still a Long Way to Go (Carroll, New York Times, 2019)

Physicians and Implicit Bias: How Doctors May Unwittingly Perpetuate Health Care Disparities (Chapman, Kaatz & Carnes, Journal of General Internal Medicine, 2013)

The Associations of Clinicians’ Implicit Attitudes About Race With Medical Visit Communication and Patient Ratings of Interpersonal Care (Cooper, et al, American Journal of Public Health, 2012)

​National Healthcare Quality and Disparities Reports (Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, 2018)

Unequal Treatment: Confronting Racial and Ethnic Disparities in Health Care (Institute of Medicine, 2002)