“WHAT’S UP, DOC?”

You have placed the patient-doctor relationship at the center of your project, why?

A. J. : It has changed a lot in recent years. Patients want to participate more in the decisions that concern them. They need intel­ligible information to do so. Sadly, doctors use very technical termino­logy in their reports, often with Gre­co-Latin roots. It is a jargon that the patients are unable to understand. A word like “gastritis” doesn’t exist in modern German: we would say “Magenschleimhautentzündung”. So we put into place a simple solu­tion to this problem: we translate medical documents into clear terms. The person anonymously uploads his or her medical file to the Was hab’ ich platform or submits it by fax. It is then translated by a medical student or a doctor from one of our teams, spread throughout Germany. These volunteers have received a complete training from our employees to learn to sim­plify reports. Since 2014, we also give classes on the subject in the universi­ties of Hamburg, Marburg and Dres­den, where we have our head office.

Are you saying that before Was hab’ ich, no universities were teaching doctors how to communicate with patients?

A. J. : It was taught, but not sufficiently. The problem isn’t that professors dis­regard the question or that they lack empathy. In reality, it is the doctor-pa­tient relationship that is in question. In Germany, general practitioners only have seven minutes per person in their office, on average. When they are at a consultation, patients are often afraid to ask questions or simply don’t know what to ask. Add to this some abstruse terms and by the time they get home, patients forget up to 80 % of the infor­mation given to them at the doctor’s office because the medical language is incomprehensible.

Many universities are starting to measure the importance of this pro­blem and are trying to respond to it with new approaches. Was hab’ ich offers one of them. Medical language must be taught, of course, but you should also learn to express yourself in a way that is smooth and accessible for the patients. The road is long, but we are optimistic: our classes get really good feedback from students.

On the medical level, what are the advantages of a better understanding by the patient?

A. J. : A better understanding of the dia­gnosis enables them to ask pertinent questions. For example, patients can make informed decisions when a surgi­cal procedure is being considered. In the long run, participating in discussions has a positive impact on their health itinerary, on their morale and on their overall well-being. On the other hand, patients who don’t understand their medical reports are often uneasy with their therapy. As a result, treatments are followed haphazardly or recommen­dations are read approximately. This can have a negative impact on the well-being of the patient. It also costs the German healthcare system billions of euros per year. The same amount of money could be saved with better communication.

What is the project’s impact?

A. J. : Two indicators are essential for us. First, on the level of the patients: 3,000 have received an understandable expla­nation of their medical reports thanks to our platform since its launch in 2011. Second, on the level of the professionals: more than 600 students in Germany and Switzerland have been trained in smooth communication. We have also succeeded in building a good network within the German healthcare system by cooperating with health insurance companies and the Ministry of Health.

How can the platform be developed to reach more people?

A. J. : Of course, we are trying to enlarge our field of action. Doing more translations means collaborating with more doctors and students and devo­ting a lot of effort to their training. This will not only allow us to integrate them into our platform, but also to improve their future relationships with their patients. To take it even further, we are working on a new project. In Germany, when you leave a hospital, you receive a medical discharge report, which is also difficult to decipher.

We have therefore developed sof­tware, that care centers are charged for, which makes the speedy transla­tion of these documents possible. The first results of this pilot program show that patients are more satisfied with their treatment and give hospitals a more positive evaluation. We have high hopes for this project, as its impact could be very important. In Germany, there are 2,000 structures treating over nine million people each year that are likely to benefit from it.

By Timothée Vinchon