More than 60 percent of companions helped with doctor-patient communications by writing down instructions (44.1 percent), giving information on the patients' medical conditions or needs (41.6 percent), asking questions (41.1 percent) or explaining doctors' instructions (29.7 percent).
Patients who were accompanied on visits were 15 percent more satisfied with their doctor's technical skills, 19 percent more satisfied with the doctors' information-giving, and 18 percent more satisfied with their personal skills compared with unaccompanied patients.
"This tells us that this is a national phenomenon," Roter said. "These patient companions are commonly very active, so they don't just stay in the waiting room. They come into the exam room with the patients, and they're active in the communication process in a helpful way."
Study author Jennifer L. Wolff, an assistant professor of health policy and management at Bloomberg, hopes the findings will lead to more research on better ways to use companion visits to advantage.
"This study is important in terms of thinking about the role of the visit companion, both within the encounter and also outside the encounter," she said. "We don't have a very good understanding of roles that family caregivers play in medical processes. It would be very exciting to relate this to safety issues, for example, adverse drug reactions or issues around adherence to medications. Theoretically, it makes sense that when an older adult has a family caregiver who is actively engaged in the health-care process, there could be some beneficial outcomes."
Another expert agreed but offered a note of caution.
"This has pushed the science to the next level by quantifying the findings, and b
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