'Difficult' patients may suffer more

Feb 07, 2011

Poor patient-physician communication may have a negative effect on recovery in the short-term.

Researchers found that the approximately 18 percent of people considered difficult patients may experience negative short-term health effects as a result, says the Journal of General Internal Medicine.

The study was performed at a walk-in clinic, where researchers surveyed 750 patients, inquiring about their symptoms and overall health and expectations. They were also assessed for mental disorders. Immediately following their consultations, they were asked if their treatment met their expectations and if they trusted the physician. Researchers followed up two weeks later to assess the patient's condition at that time.

In the follow-ups, many patients who physicians classified as difficult experienced a worsening of symptoms. They were also more likely to report worse symptoms to begin with, according to the Journal. "In particular, 'difficult' patients had more symptoms, worse functional status, used the clinic more frequently and were more likely to have an underlying psychiatric disorder than non-difficult patients," the report said.

A recent University of Pittsburgh study also found that good patient-physician relationships are helpful for the families of the terminally ill who are faced with difficult end-of-life decisions. However, it is recommended that people prepare final directives and name life insurance beneficiaries while they are still healthy to avoid any potential conflicts.  

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