Doctor-Patient Communication, eHealth, Health Communication, Interpersonal Communication, Research Findings ,


Could a lack of communication between older Americans and their healthcare providers increase the likelihood of a bad interaction? And by “bad interaction,” I don’t just mean interpersonally. The University of Michigan conducted a national poll of 1,690 Americans ages 50 to 80 and found that only 35% of those taking multiple medications had discussed possible drug interactions with a health professional in the past two years.

This lack of open-dialogue may be due to the transient nature of where we get our medication. Of the sample, 20% had used more than one pharmacy in the past two years. And even so, only 36% reported that their pharmacist definitely knew of all the medications they were taking. Alcohol, supplements, and certain foods can affect how the body responds to medication as can other medications.

Older adults especially may also be under the care of many different doctors and specialists, with 60% seeing more than one doctor. Addressing medication interactions can be challenging even when all the information is presented but when doctors don’t have the whole picture of which medications are at play, they very well could miss something. Electronic records and medical computer systems may be of assistance in flagging potential interactions, but a complete list of a patient’s medications is still necessary.

Patient-provider communication in recent years has been supplemented with patient portals and electronic paper trails, and I wonder if this older age group is slipping through the gap between interpersonal and electronic communication.


  • Arshya Gurbani

    Your point about the transition to electronic communication modes and the gaps it can create is really important to think about. That 35% statistic is really scary, because drug interactions can get so complicated! Thank you for sharing this perspective

  • Matthew Johnson

    I think a lot of people can slip through the gaps with electronic forms of communication, specifically the most vulnerable populations who might not have access to these systems or the health literacy to understand information provided on them. But also, I feel like electronic communication doesn’t feel interpersonal to me. You connect with a computer rather than an actual individual. I think replacing people with computers in health as an issue in terms of providing adequate care.