Heart failure

Communicating with medical staff

Many of those diagnosed with heart failure may know little about it, so explaining its meaning and implications without causing distress presents a real challenge to medical staff. Most people spoke highly of doctors and nurses and the care they took to explain heart failure. Many had reached an understanding of heart failure over time, though others said they were still rather confused by all the detail.

Many people appreciated being able to talk to their GPs. One woman found all the GPs in her practice easy to talk to and valued being able to get an appointment whenever she wanted. Several who had been in hospital said they had built up a good relationship with nurses on the ward and found them easy to talk to. Those with access to specialist nurses said that being able to ask questions of someone who knew them well was 'brilliant' (see 'Specialist heart failure nurses').

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Kindness and accessibility were seen as key components of a good relationship with medical staff and improved communication. For example a woman described how a consultant put his arms round her when she cried, and kept explaining heart failure to her and what it would mean. One man said that his consultant shared jokes with him and explained cardiomyopathy in a language he could understand, which helped him deal with his fear of the future.

Communication could break down when medical staff were perceived as uncaring. For example one woman who had trained as a nurse, said the body language of some nurses was unfriendly and put her off asking for their help. The way some doctors approached patients could be counter-productive, for instance one man said that he had felt hassled by doctors he didn't know asking him to join research projects when he was still feeling ill. Another man had been told in front of many other people that he was too old for a heart transplant and was so shocked that he couldn't think of any questions to ask and left hospital feeling depressed.

Lack of continuity in follow-up appointments and time constraints could also jeopardise communication. One man said that seeing different doctors undermined his sense of security because they didn't know him or his case. Someone else said that outpatient clinics were 'the give-away job' and that he wondered if doctors had enough time to read notes before consultations. Those who had seen different specialists in the course of treatment said that they were satisfied that the communication between doctors had worked well. One man said he relied on his GPs to draw all the different threads of his various illnesses together.

Those who had lived with heart failure for a long time felt that communication had improved considerably. One said that things would be even better if patients were encouraged to ask more questions but another felt that people didn't always know what to ask. Several people said they had felt involved in certain decisions made about their care.

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Last reviewed April 2016.
Last updated April 2016.

 

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