Communicating Gastrointestinal Symptoms: The Patient’s Challenge
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Gastrointestinal (GI) disorders present with signs that are objective and symptoms that are subjective, evaluable only if an individual can recognize, characterize, describe, and communicate them to a healthcare professional (HCP). The aim of this study was to quantify the extent to which healthcare seekers perceive difficulties in communicating their GI symptoms to HCPs. Interviews were conducted in two settings where individuals were expected to acknowledge experiencing GI symptoms: a tertiary-care, ambulatory GI clinic and the digestive health medication area of a large retail pharmacy. A 13-item questionnaire was designed to identify subjects' perceptions of the component stages of a symptom communication process. Surveys were completed by 100 participants, 50 from the clinic and 50 from the pharmacy. Most participants reported that it was difficult to know if their symptom descriptions had been understood (clinic: 68%; pharmacy: 86%), that difficulty in describing symptoms hampered access to healthcare (clinic: 82%; pharmacy: 76%), and that use of different descriptors (e.g., icons) would facilitate symptom reporting (clinic: 90%; pharmacy: 98%). Apart from difficulties in selecting a standard term and in providing a specific description for their symptoms, perceived barriers to communicating symptoms did not differ between the clinic and pharmacy settings. Most individuals with GI symptoms perceive difficulty in communicating their symptoms to healthcare professionals. Improved access and improved GI healthcare require new, patient-centered tools for symptom communication. These may be pictogram- or icon-based tools rather than traditional verbal descriptors.
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