08:56pm Monday 18 November 2019

Communication – the best medicine for patients

Research published today shows that collaborations which aim to improve communication between doctors can have crucial impacts on patients. The effects can be as great as those achieved through drugs.

The research, which is published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, was led by Robbie Foy, professor of primary care at the University of Leeds. His team examined a wealth of data from international studies, focussing particularly on two sets of patients – one group suffering from depression, a second being treated for diabetes.

In both these long-term conditions, patients would typically be seeing both family doctors and specialists, with their care under one often overlapping with their treatment from the other.

“What we wanted to see was whether having arrangements in place to improve communication and teamwork between these health professionals would make any difference to their outcomes,” said Prof Foy, himself a family doctor in Leeds. “In short, would those suffering depression recover; would blood sugar levels be better controlled in people with diabetes?

“The results were impressive. In cases where family doctors and specialists were collaborating, blood sugar was much better controlled in people with diabetes – which is a significant step in avoiding the complications associated with the condition.

“In the case of patients with depression, the improvement in outcomes was about the same as you would get from treating their depression with drugs.”

The models for collaboration vary from place to place, and can take many forms – from email or face-to-face conversations between health professionals, through networks establishing links between medical practices, to a joint responsibility for drawing up treatment regimes and monitoring their effectiveness. But the research shows that where the collaboration is most systematic and effective, patients really benefit.

“In a way this is all common sense,” said Prof Foy, but now we really have the evidence to back it up.”

Further information:

The paper “Effect of Interactive Communication Between Collaborating Primary Care Physicians and Specialists” by Robbie Foy, MBChB, PhD; Susanne Hempel, PhD; Lisa Rubenstein, MD, MSPH; Marika Suttorp, MS; Michelle Seelig, MD, MSHS; Roberta Shanman, MLS; and Paul G. Shekelle, MD, PhD is published in the Annals of Internal Medicine. A pdf copy of the paper is available on request.

For further information, or requests to interview Professor Foy, please contact Simon Jenkins, senior press officer at the University of Leeds, tel: 0113 3434031 (w) or 07791 333229 (m).

Notes to editors:

The research was led by Robbie Foy, professor of primary care at the University of Leeds: http://www.leeds.ac.uk/lihs/pc/Staff%20Profiles/robbiefoy.html

The 2008 Research Assessment Exercise showed the University of Leeds to be the UK’s eighth biggest research powerhouse. The University is one of the largest higher education institutions in the UK and a member of the Russell Group of research-intensive universities. The University’s vision is to secure a place among the world’s top 50 by 2015. www.leeds.ac.uk

With more than 6,000 students, 1,500 staff and annual research income topping £35m, the Faculty of Medicine and Health at Leeds is bigger than many entire universities. Leeds has one of the largest medical and bioscience research bases in the UK, and is an acknowledged world leader in cancer, cardiovascular, psychiatric, genetic and musculoskeletal research. Treatments developed in Leeds are transforming the lives of people around the world living with conditions such as HIV, TB, diabetes and malaria. www.leeds.ac.uk/info/20029/faculties/191/faculty_of_medicine_and_health

Funding for the study came from RAND Health’s Comprehensive Assessment of Reform Options Initiative, the Veterans Affairs Center for the Study of Provider Behavior, the Commonwealth Fund and the Health Foundation.

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