Asking open-ended questions can drive better patient outcomes

Doc and patient

When a medical resident at Boston Medical Center (BMC) is asked why his patient’s blood pressure is out of control, “I don’t know” isn’t the response his attending physician is looking for, reports WBUR.

His attending physician is looking for the root cause of the patient’s emergency room visits for recurring throbbing headaches. This particular patient, for example, had to choose between getting his blood pressure medications and buying groceries for his family--and he wasn’t showing up for appointments with his doctor because he couldn’t get the time off work, according to the news report.

What’s missing during the typical physician-patient interaction are open-ended questions, says Travis Manasco, M.D., a fourth-year resident leading a resident orientation workshop at BMC, according to WBUR.

The resident workshop is the brainchild of Thea James, M.D., vice president of mission and associate chief medical officer at BMC. She started the workshop because she was tired of watching the revolving door of patients who got the right prescriptions and treatment plans--but no one ever stopped to ask what was causing patients’ health issues, reports the news station.

"We can always, more often than not, fix the blood pressure or whatever brings [a patient] here," James told WBUR, "But if we send [a patient] back to what caused it without ever finding out what caused it, we are just fueling that cycle."

Boston Medical Center, considered the largest safety net hospital in New England, provides a food pantry, housing assistance, legal aid, and other programs that address the socio-economic challenges that its community faces.

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