I frequently wonder why physicians can transplant a heart but can't properly communicate with their patients or other physicians.

I frequently wonder why physicians can transplant a heart but can't properly communicate with their patients or other physicians.


Much has already been written about doctors' inability to communicate with their patients and some of the reasons for this. However, my pet peeve is the lack of doctor-to-doctor communication.


A doctor refers a patient to a specialist for advice about a certain medical problem. The patient then returns to his or her doctor to discuss the specialist's opinion and treatment plan.


Unfortunately, the doctor has never received a letter from the specialist concerning the patient. A call is made to the specialist, who is not available, and the office personnel cannot provide the needed information. Although this is unacceptable, it is happens very often.


In a recent study, researchers followed 3,000 patients who were referred to other doctors to determine how often the referring physician received a report concerning the results of their patients consultation.


Results showed that only 22 percent of the time did the referring doctor receive this information. In these situations, it then becomes necessary for patients to provide the information concerning the specialists' opinion and recommendations.


Frequently, this is inadequate because the patient may not have understood everything that was said and was relying on his or her own doctor to explain everything.


If the referring doctor and consultant are in the same medical practice and use a common electronic records system, then the information is usually easily obtainable. However, most of the time this is not the situation.


This lack of doctor-to-doctor communication is not new. When I started practicing medicine, family doctors were continually bemoaning the fact that they were not receiving feedback from specialists concerning their patients.


Subsequently, efforts were made to improve this situation and progress was made.


However, as doctors became busier and were also faced with more administrative bureaucracy, I have noted - and this study has shown - fewer consultation letters are received by the referring physician.


This lack of doctor-to-doctor communication is a serious problem as it can affect proper patient care.


It is time for the medical profession to re-address this issue.


You would think that solving this communication problem would be easier to do than transplanting a heart. Apparently not.


Massachusetts-based Dr. Murray Feingold is the physician in chief of the National Birth Defects Center, medical editor of WBZ-TV and WBZ radio, and president of the Genesis Fund. The Genesis Fund is a nonprofit organization that funds the care of children born with birth defects, mental retardation and genetic diseases.