A 400-page report, What do patients think of doctors?, published in early-March 2011 by UK research organisation PatientView, finds that over half (53%) of the 2,500 respondent patient groups think patients believe doctors are standing in the way of their receipt of the correct diagnosis, treatment and and/or support—and are making patients ‘fight the system’ to obtain the care they need.

The situation is at its worst in five countries—Canada, Germany, Italy, New Zealand and the UK—where 60% or more of patient groups say that health professionals need to improve their relationships with patients by not making patients fight the system for their medical needs. 70% of patient groups representing the interests of patients with gastrointestinal problems, 60% representing the interests of patients with multiple sclerosis, and 60% rare diseases, feel that health professionals need to stop forcing patients to ‘fight the system’ to get the care they need.

Poor doctor-patient relationships have a negative effect on patient health

What do patients think of doctors? focuses on the current state of doctor-patient relationships, and offers numerous insights into how they can be improved. The report finds that less than a third of groups representing patients believe GPs and consultants remain traditional and patriarchal in their attitudes to patients. On the other hand, only 15% believe that doctors treat patients as equals (and act on that belief)—the rest believe that the situation varies from doctor to doctor, or that doctors may intend to take a partnering role, but fail to live up to it. Relationships between doctors and patients are undoubtedly in need of considerable improvement, especially in some of the less well-performing countries. The state of doctor-patient relations has an important bearing on how well patients respond to treatment. In the report, patient groups are quoted as saying that poor doctor-patient relationships prevent patients from coming forward for medical treatment and care—even when treatment and care is needed.

Doctors need to listen more to the patient

When asked what single intervention would most improve doctor-patient relationships, the groups cite “enhancing the communication-and-understanding skills of the healthcare professional” as their main choice, second only to “the provision of treatment and care that improves quality of life”. In Australia, Italy, New Zealand and the UK, improving doctors’ communication-and-understanding skills is ranked first, as the most important way of improving doctor-patient relations. Groups representing the interests of patients with cancer and HIV/AIDS also see such a development as the favoured way of improving doctor-patient relations among the patients in their disease specialties.

About the survey

What do patients think of doctors? is based on the results of a November 2010 PatientView survey of 2,500 patient groups from around the world. The survey asked the respondent groups what they think of current doctor-patient relationships, and how they believe those relationships might be improved.

The report covers most subject areas in which patients would like doctor-patient relations to be improved, including: l Access to health professionals l Access and choice during diagnosis and treatment l Patient information provided by health professionals l Doctor-patient communication l Gaining patient trust l Respecting patients’ valuable time l Accountability of health professionals l Improving prevention practices l Which single action do patients want from government and payers to improve doctor-patient relationships? l Which pharmaceutical companies are having a positive effect on doctor-patient relationships? l Why pharma can have a negative impact on doctor-patient relationships.

The report analyses doctor-patient relations in 11 countries and one region of the world: Australia [number of completed responses = 60]; Canada [138]; Eastern Europe [105]; France [80]; Germany [100]; Italy [110]; the Netherlands [30]; New Zealand [55]; Spain [80]; Sweden [56]; the UK [566]; and the USA [292]. Doctor-patient relations are also analysed for the following 12 specialties: cancer [160]; diabetes [55]; gastro-intestinal [40]; heart and circulatory conditions [70]; HIV/AIDS [72]; mental health [170]; multiple sclerosis [35]; neurological [195]; Parkinson’s disease [30]; rare diseases [70]; respiratory [35]; and rheumatological conditions [55].