examines bedside chatter
studies professor Marlene von Friederichs-Fitzwater credits a life-threatening
illness as motivation for research she has conducted since doctors
diagnosed her with cervical cancer 20 years ago.
During the course of her illness von Friederichs-Fitzwater, who
was studying mass communication, observed changing dynamics with
her doctors. “I noticed that the worse the prognosis, the
more trouble physicians had in communicating with me.”
She says she wanted to know why medical personnel spoke to her differently
as her illness grew more serious and if the experience she had was
similar to other patients’. She wanted to help people, especially
after her health improved.
She founded Health Communication Research Institute, Inc. in 1989
with the goal of improving the outcomes of health care by improving
Von Friederichs-Fitzwater, also a public relations specialist, uncovered
doctors’ tendencies to dominate patient interviews. She says
physicians interrupt every 18 seconds and they often change the
subject. “When the patient mentions something on an emotional
level, the physician usually turns the conversation back to physical
symptoms,” she says.
One way she’s ensuring the research helps others is by instructing
professionals and medical students. HCRI offers free online classes
about pain management and how to treat terminally ill patients.
Von Friederichs-Fitzwater says she likes applying the research.
“I enjoy being able to translate, educate. I’m happy
seeing the research put to use. It’s my passion.”
The institute’s next big project is a $500,000 undertaking
to install interactive, video-based kiosks in Sacramento-area community
centers, churches and schools. They will dispense medical information
in several languages including Russian and Hmong. “We’re
trying to reach at-risk populations who don’t have access
to quality health information and change risky health behavior,”
For more information, visit the institute’s website at www.hcri.com.