Podcast

‘An Arm And A Leg’: Real Lessons Doctors Can Learn From Fake Patients


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Sometimes doctors get the “medical stuff” right while patients still get the wrong care.

That’s one finding from a study that sent fake patients — actors wired with recording devices — into real doctors’ offices.

When the “patients” walked into the doctor’s office to tell their story, physicians were often laser-focused on biomedical issues. But the physicians often missed the psychosocial problems that can be a barrier to good health.

Does the underweight, middle-aged man really need to undergo a battery of expensive tests and get screened for cancer? Instead, maybe he’s experiencing food insecurity and needs a referral to the local Meals on Wheels program.

Researchers from the University of Illinois at Chicago recorded hundreds of interactions between these actor-patients and doctors and then analyzed those conversations. They documented medical errors that can result in unnecessary, unhelpful care — and add hundreds of dollars to the cost of a doctor’s visit.

On Episode 7 of “An Arm and a Leg,” meet a doctor who had his listening skills tested and the actor-patient who put the doctor through his paces.


Season 2 is a co-production of Kaiser Health News and Public Road Productions.

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