Six tips for communicating with your patients

two doctors - doctor patient communication

The influence of communication on medical practice is a fundamental aspect that significantly impacts health outcomes and patient satisfaction. Good communication between a doctor and a patient is paramount, bridging the gap between medical knowledge and patient understanding.

Evidence-based studies indicate that effective physician-patient communication improves patients' health outcomes. When doctors listen to patients and take time to understand their concerns, it leads to a more accurate diagnosis and tailored treatment, thus directly influencing improved patient health outcomes. On the other hand, poor communication may lead to misdiagnoses, misunderstandings about the treatment plan, and a decrease in patient adherence to recommended interventions, which can negatively affect patient health.

Medical schools play an integral role in equipping future primary care physicians with robust communication skills. Training in communication skills begins in medical school, where medical students are taught the importance of communication in medical care. Medical education focuses not only on technical knowledge but also on interpersonal skills, listening to patients, empathising with their feelings, and communicating medical information effectively. Such training helps to improve communication and ensures that the doctors of tomorrow are well-equipped to handle nuanced patient interactions.

The interaction between a doctor and a patient goes beyond just medical advice; it's a shared decision-making process. Doctors need to educate patients about their health condition, treatment options, potential side effects, and other pertinent information. This patient education process requires effective communication with patients, where complex medical jargon is broken down into understandable language. The ability to communicate effectively builds trust and encourages patient participation in their health care decisions.

The importance of communication cannot be understated in today's healthcare system. According to a study in the "Journal of General Internal Medicine," better communication leads to higher patient satisfaction. Patients who feel listened to and understood by their doctors are more likely to follow their treatment plan, attend follow-up visits, and have a better overall healthcare experience. Thus, enhancing communication skills is a direct path towards improved patient satisfaction and health outcomes.

However, the challenges in doctor-patient communication cannot be ignored. The medical practice often suffers due to the doctor's time constraints, the complexity of medical terminology, and patients' emotional distress. These challenges often contribute to poor communication and can lead to confusion, dissatisfaction, and suboptimal health outcomes.

To counter these challenges, primary care physicians, who are often the first line of contact for patients, must place a high emphasis on communication skills. Additionally, ongoing training in communication skills for practicing doctors can significantly enhance the quality of medical care. Workshops and seminars that focus on real-life scenarios, role-play, and constructive feedback can be instrumental in improving communication skills.

Technological advancements also offer promising tools to aid effective communication. With the rise of telemedicine and digital health records, opportunities for enhancing doctor-patient communication have significantly increased. These tools can enable better patient education, more consistent communication, and more accessible medical care.

Good communication skills are some of the most important skills you need to be a doctor. Communication between the doctor and patient can have a significant impact on health outcomes, yet advanced communications training isn’t offered at med school.

Interpersonal communication, verbal or non-verbal, is integral for the development of a meaningful relationship between the doctor and patient. It’s something that you’ll often learn on the job – but if there’s few examples of exemplary doctor communication skills in your day-to-day work, it’s a hard skill to nurture.

Research shows that despite the fact that a patient-physician consultation is the most widely performed 'procedure' in a physician's professional lifetime, “effective communication with the patient has been found to be sadly lacking.” {LINK: }

Why communication skills are important for doctors

Advanced communication skills enable you to gain a clear understanding of a patient’s needs, develop good doctor-patient rapport and instil trust.

This can help you:

• Deliver a positive patient experience • Improve compliance with medication or treatment • Better interact with ‘difficult’ patients and reduce conflict • Reduce mistakes and misunderstandings, and increase team productivity • Increase job satisfaction

Six tips for better communication between doctors and patients

  1. When building up a rapport with a patient, don’t give up if things don’t go well at first – first impressions are important, but you do get a second (or third chance)!

  2. Be realistic with your communications goals. Be patient, yet motivated to create small changes. For example, if a patient needs to lose weight, instead of talking about their stroke risk – ask them how they can incorporate a little more exercise into their day-to-day.

  3. Remember that communication isn’t just about words – your body language and facial expressions are important too. Share meaningful eye contact, take time to listen and try not to cross your arms as this can appear ‘closed off’.

  4. Have respect for cultural differences and if you’re in a permanent placement, try to learn more about the cultures in your local community. Approaching a difficult topic with a patient from their perspective can help health outcomes and increase compliance with care and treatment.

  5. Be mindful of your use of technical medical jargon and acronyms. Good communicators seek to understand and be understood.

  6. Include your patients on the journey. Explore care options with them and simply describe the steps or thought processes you’re taking to get them the care or treatment they need.

To sum up, effective doctor-patient communication is an essential component of medical practice. The incorporation of communication skills training in medical schools, continuous skill enhancement for practicing physicians, and the effective use of technology can collectively improve this crucial aspect of healthcare. The importance of communication in improving health outcomes and patient satisfaction cannot be overstated, and it demands concerted efforts from all stakeholders in healthcare. The path to enhanced patient satisfaction and better health outcomes lies in improving communication, listening to patients, and emphasizing the human touch in medical care.

Communication skills are vitally important to the doctor patient relationship. Good communication is a key part of your role as a doctor, but with continual development and mindfulness on this topic, you’ll find patient outcomes are improved and you and your team are more productive.

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Bethany Rogers
16 April 2021Article by Bethany RogersMedrecruit Editor