Emergency patients unaware of how little they understand instructions

NEWS IN BRIEF — Posted Aug. 11, 2008

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The majority of patients do not fully comprehend what they are supposed to do after leaving an emergency department even though they think they do, according to a study published online in July in the Annals of Emergency Medicine.

"This study shows that many patients walk away from important clinical encounters confident that they know what happened and why but with little reason to be so confident," said Peter Ubel, MD, one of the authors and a professor of internal medicine at the University of Michigan Medical School in Ann Arbor.

Researchers interviewed 140 patients in emergency care. About 32% did not understand their diagnosis, and 61% could not comprehend their care. Some 73% did not understand what they should do after discharge, and 46% did not grasp that they needed to return to another doctor. Only 20% knew they did not understand.

The authors suggest that instead of asking if patients have any questions, physicians should ask patients to repeat instructions in their own words.

Note: This item originally appeared at

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