Six tips for better communication between doctors and patients


Article by Bethany Rogers16 Apr 2021
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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: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/20099777/ }

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.

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
Article by Bethany RogersMedrecruit Editor
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