Dr. Lisa Sanders presents the lecture ‘Every Patient Tells a Story’

Dr. Lisa Sanders
Dr. Lisa Sanders

Nov. 18, 2013 - Dr. Lisa Sanders' New York Times Magazine column "Diagnosis" was the basis for the Fox television medical drama "House."

While fictitious Dr. Gregory House's beside manners left much to be desired, they also provide a cautionary tale for aspiring health care professionals.

"One thing he did not do so much is talk to patients," Sanders said. "He was not interested in the patient's story and yet it is clear that the patient's story is at the very heart of diagnosis. I hope to prove that to you. The patient's story is the one thing that is most likely to lead you to the right answer to the question, 'What the heck is going on?'"

Sanders presented the lecture, "Every Patient Tells a Story: Using History in Diagnosis and Treatment," on Nov. 18 in the auditorium at the Center for Medicine, Nursing and Health Sciences on the North Haven Campus. About 300 health care students and faculty members attended the event, which was part of the University's Campus Cross Talk Series.

Sanders, a board-certified internist who is an assistant professor at the Yale School of Medicine, outlined research on how the patient's story helps the provider make a diagnosis.

"Ultimately, it's the doctor's job to take that story and give the diagnosis back to the patient in the language and ideas that that patient can understand because the patient then has to then live with that diagnosis," she said.

Sanders said listening to the patient can give health care providers important data on health literacy and attitudes about illness and medications, pointing out there is very good data to suggest that effective communication helps people suffer less and heal faster. Sanders discussed the importance of putting the patient at ease, redirecting the patient to provide additional information and utilizing non-verbal communication.

Using a knee injury as an example, she suggested that health care providers explore the psychological impact symptoms have on a patient and take a look at the big picture.

"You can't just stay focused on the knee because it turns out the knee is connected to the thigh bone and that's connected to a whole person and a whole family," Sanders said. "Let your curiosity spark your questions. I think that's the most important thing, but know that the more you talk the less you listen and listening is where the data comes from."

Campus Cross Talk is a year-long series of events that engage Quinnipiac students and faculty in discussions on topics related to a central theme. The current theme is health literacy. Past Campus Cross Talks focused on bioethics and social revolution. Events can include teach-ins, book reviews, film analysis, panel discussions and guest speakers.  

"Many of you are in medicine, health sciences and nursing," said Kimberly Hartmann, interim dean of the School of Health Sciences, before introducing Sanders. "This topic about communicating with and listening to our patients is part of our everyday curriculum. It's also a critical component of our everyday practice for the patient and healthcare moving forward."

After her talk, Sanders took questions from the audience and signed copies of her book, ""Every Patient Tells a Story: Medical Mysteries and the Art of Diagnosis."

In addition to her column, Sanders also contributes to the New York Times health blog, "Well." Her monthly "Think Like a Doctor" feature, like her column, explores how a doctor is able to make a diagnosis in patients whose baffling symptoms have brought them back to the office or emergency room time after time.

Before going to medical school, Sanders was an Emmy award-winning producer at CBS News. She lives in New Haven with her husband and two daughters.