Should your relations see the doctor too?

The presence of a loved one at a doctor's appointment may be detrimental if the patient suffers from mental health issues. This is the suggestion of new research from Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, which showed this impact may be especially true for older people.

Published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine, the report discovered elderly individuals with mental health problems may suffer because of increased communication challenges when accompanied to an appointment.

According to the investigation, going to medical professions with a family member might lead to shorter visits and discussions that are less centred on the patient.

Jennifer Wolff, an Associate Professor at the Bloomberg School's Department of Health Policy and Management, noted that when people arrived with family in tow, "patients engaged in less psychosocial information-giving, physicians engaged in less question-asking and partnership-building and both patients and physicians contributed more task-oriented and biomedical dialogue".

Ms Wolff explained this kind of interaction often suggests less patient-orientated communication.

Dr Sarah Newton, a Chartered Psychologist, comments:

"Being accompanied can be very helpful, but that is dependent on the calibre and experience of the professional being visited. I would expect an experienced clinician to judge each individual situation separately tailoring the seating plan, for example, to maximise direct communication with the person of concern, or inviting the family member, carer or friend to come in at the beginning and end of the consultation only or, not at all.

"This area is worthy of further study. I am interested in multimedia approaches to enhancing the retention of information in consultations given that a few years ago research was telling us that 60 per cent of the information given by a GP was forgotten as you walked out of the consulting room door. We should be looking to make more use of the technological advancements that are now available given that people with compromised cognitive functioning may also have additional processing and retention difficulties."

Dr Pat Frankish, a Fellow and former President of the British Psychological Society, adds:

"Many people with mental health issues lose their sense of their rights and start to defer to carers as do people with disabilities. We can see that this may make them less able or willing to speak up. From the professional point of view it is much easier to gather information from relatives and in busy clinics this will have an influence. Securing patient views takes time and patience. Not being heard contributes to the loss of self. Interesting findings which will hopefully lead to more time being allocated to listening".