Female and Gay Doctors Communicate Better with HIV Patients, Study Says
Female and homosexual physicians are more likely to communicate effectively with HIV patients than male or heterosexual physicians, according to a "first of its kind" study conducted by the New England Medical Center and published today in the Journal of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndromes. Effective doctor-patient communication, while difficult when centered on sexual behavior, substance abuse and death, is "crucial" for helping HIV-positive patients obtain the best possible treatment and care for their disease. "This study confirms how important it is to work with all physicians to improve their communication with patients. Making the effort to listen better and to understand fully what our patients' needs are can make a real difference in our patients' lives," lead researcher and New England Medical Center Assistant Professor Ira Wilson said. Researchers used a 100-point scale to determine the efficacy of communication, and found that female and gay doctors scored 16 points higher than their male and heterosexual colleagues when discussing these issues. Furthermore, gender and sexual orientation appeared to be the only two physician characteristics affecting patient communication, with age, specialty training, practice setting and interest in HIV care appearing to have "no impact on how well the physicians communicated with their patients." Patient characteristics such as race, insurance type, use of IV drugs and sexual preference also "had no bearing" on the quality of communication. Length of office visit was an important factor in measuring the communication quality, with shorter visits consistently correlating to lower quality. "In the past several years, we have witnessed a continued trend toward making office visits shorter and shorter. This study indicates that shorter office visits could actually compromise important physician-patient communication. HIV care today is very complex, and physicians should resist the trend toward shorter visits for their patients with HIV," Wilson said. To improve physician-patient communication, the study authors recommended follow-up research of the "specific nature" of communication between female and gay physicians; establishment of training programs to teach other doctors to focus on these specific behaviors; and lengthening visits to ensure proper time for communicating (New England Medical Center release, 12/22).This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.