Winning The War On Fear: Australian Doctors Bridging The Information Chasm
Mention the word “medicine” to a member of the Australian public and they are just as likely to conjure up visions of the dreaded “machines that go beep” which dominate hospital rooms as they are to reflect on the men and women who deliver Healthcare services to the public across a diverse range of practices and specialties.
In an age where Healthcare is embracing the Internet of Things and wearable tech, the gentle art of communicating with the public seems part of a now-vanished era, rendered asunder by ‘Dr. Google,’ never to return.
Taking The Message To The People
There is an abundance of evidence to support the benefits successful communication has in clinical consultations. In bridging the doctor–patient divide the challenge is how to span the gap in biomedical understandings of health and disease.
Yet even in our digital age, there is a role for Australian doctors to take, put down the stethoscope and take to their keyboard in writing, be it books or articles, to take the Healthcare message to the public. One ‘doctor who writes’ is Australian oncologist and award-winning author Ranjana Srivastava.
A physician practising oncology and internal medicine in Australia, Dr. Srivastava passionately believes the art of medicine is as important as its science and where possible, Dr. Srivastava OAM actively promotes her mission through her books, articles and media broadcasts.
Information’s Role In The War On Fear
Until 1900 human knowledge doubled approximately every century. By the end of World War II, knowledge was doubling every 25 years. Today on average human knowledge is doubling every 13 months. Ironically, in our information-rich era, patients are still daunted by the difficulty of finding accessible, easily understood information. As any marketer will point out, information abundance and a plethora of choice actually impair decision-making.
As Dr. Srivastava writes, increased medical specialization brings with it the risk that doctors can fail to see the whole picture with risks for patients increasingly emerging from a failure of communication between doctor and patient.
Interestingly, much of the focus on health literacy targets healthcare professionals helping patients become better patients. This process would be streamlined by providing accurate information on health topics that patients can readily assimilate to help them understand their medical condition and its treatment options. Physicians increasingly need to provide patients with information that is simple and clear.
Dr. Srivastava’s own series of book on Cancer set an example of how contemporary healthcare professionals can lead the way by engaging with the community outside their practice.
Cancer is the diagnosis no one wants to hear but is increasingly prevalent with many families or friends being touched by one form of the disease or another. Unfortunately, these days, ‘What’s next?’ quickly assumes overwhelming importance as treatment strategies proliferate. As patients, family and friends grapple with the prognosis, they inevitably encounter fear, uncertainty and hesitation, sparking numerous questions and an avalanche of unsolicited advice.
Communicators such as Dr. Srivastava are showing how to close the gap between professional insight and community and hopefully patient understanding.
A Profile In Prose
After completing her medical degree from Monash University Dr. Ranjana Srivastava won a Fulbright scholar from the University of Chicago (2004). Today, Dr. Srivastava is taking her message to the public through her books articles and broadcasting work along the way becoming an award-winning author. Her latest of four books is After Cancer: A Guide to Living Well. Other books include Dying For A Chat (winner of the 2013 Human Rights Literature Award); Tell Me the Truth: Conversations With My Patients About Life And Death; and A Cancer Companion.
A regular columnist for The Guardian, Dr. Srivastava’s writing frequently features in the New England Journal of Medicine’s Perspectives section where she reflects on medicine, its practice and its impact on doctors, patients and society. The NEJM is published by the Massachusetts Medical Society and is among the most prestigious peer-reviewed medical journals and the oldest continuously published one.
Dr. Srivastava has appeared as both a guest and host of a number of programs across the ABC. Her commentary on medical and social issues is widely reported.
In 2017, Dr. Srivastava was awarded the Medal of the Order of Australia (OAM) for her contribution to improving doctor-patient communication after receiving the Australian Human Rights Award in 2013.
In one way, the opportunities have never been greater for Australian healthcare professionals to share their knowledge and insights with the broader community. We live in a content-driven world, where web pages need to be filled, books published and radio program and podcasts broadcast. Whether it’s a tightly targeted yet complex specialty such as Dr. Srivastava’s oncology and internal medicine or a broader topic, Australia’s healthcare environment will be the richer for contributions. Who knows, you could just be our next award-winning author!