I realized early in my nursing career that clear communication affected patient outcomes. Doctors, nurses, and other health care providers should establish clear communications with their patients. What you say (and how you say it) can directly affect the patient, their behavior, and their family’s reaction. There are many ways to improve physician-patient communication. Here are 10 key strategies to establishing a good rapport with patients. Knowing these are beneficial for patients, too. As a patient, you are one half of the patient-doctor communication, so it's important to know that to expect of your clinician, and what they expect of you.
Ways to Improve Physician-Patient Communication
Poor doctor-patient communication can have serious consequences. A report by The Doctors Weigh In reveals that communication failures account for 27 percent of medical malpractice claims. Health care providers, therefore, should take steps to recognize and close gaps in understanding between the doctor and the patient. You can bridge communication gaps and improve the patients’ understanding of their care with these strategies.
Review the Chart before Meeting the Patient
Instead of reading your patient’s chart while examining them, do so in advance. This is especially crucial for new patients; you’ll likely need more time to assess their medical history before meeting them. For current patients, your clinic’s medical software would provide you with all the information you need at your fingertips.
By reviewing the chart in advance, you can focus much of your attention on the patient — and not on their chart — and avoid unnecessary blunders. Staring at your tablet or computer screen throughout the exam is incredibly off-putting. On the other hand, showing an even cursory knowledge of the patients health history instill confidence in them.
In 2019, I had to have an emergency appendectomy. When the surgeon came in and said, “I see in your chart that you're affected by AEC syndrome. Can you tell me how that affects your healing process personally?” I was really impressed. First, it said she actually looked at my chart. Second, it said she recognized that my knowledge of my own body could contribute valuable information that could impact my health outcome.
Begin with a Greeting
Some physicians walk into a consultation area to greet their patients. This action alone makes patients feel important. Taking the time to greet your patients also shows that you aren’t feeling rushed or in a hurry to get more work done. My current doctor actually sits down to talk before doing an exam. Then after the exam, we move to the consultation room, to talk more.
Use the Patient’s Name During the Conversation
People like hearing their names. You can form good relationships and foster stronger bonds with patients when you use their first name in greetings and throughout the medical process. But there’s nothing wrong with using your patient’s last name, especially if your clinic takes a formal approach. For example, a pediatric clinic may be casual in patient interactions whereas a cancer research clinic may be more serious.
Establish Eye Contact with the Patient
Never underestimate the importance of maintaining eye contact to strengthen the patient-doctor relationship. The lack of eye contact could show you’re not too interested in learning about your patient. Appropriate eye contact tells your patient you care about them. Proper eye contact also signals confidence. It’s a way of communicating to patients that they’re in good hands.
Sit with the Patient
Taking a seat after entering the exam room provides additional comfort for the patient. It also tells the patient that the doctor isn’t in a rush. This may be difficult if the physician has a lot of patients to see during that time. When possible, medical providers are encouraged to pull up a chair, sit down, and have a bedside conversation with the patient.
Explain Medical Issues in Layman’s Terms
The medical industry is awash with a sea of hard-to-understand acronyms and jargon. When a patient visits for a consultation, take the time to translate complex technical and medical terminologies into simpler terms. Complicated and Latin-sounding words and phrases could add to the anxiety of the patient. Here’s an example: If the patient is suffering from hypertension, for instance, say high blood pressure instead of the actual medical term.
Check for Patient Understanding
When assessing for patient understanding, raising the question “Is everything clear?” isn’t enough. Patients may simply say “yes” even if they don’t fully grasp the whole situation. An effective way of confirming full comprehension is to use the teach-back method. This technique consists of the following steps:
- Summarize the patient’s medical information in plain English
- Request the patient to repeat the information provided using their words
- Clarify misunderstood or inaccurate details
Doctors can use these statements when checking for understanding:
- “I want to make sure that I explained your condition properly. Can you explain back to me what I’ve just said?”
- “I’ve discussed a lot of information with you. Can you review or summarize what we’ve talked about?”
- “When you go home today, what are you going to tell your spouse or family concerning your medical conditions and medications?”
Patients can use the same framework to ensure they understand what the doctor has said, even if the doctor doesn't initiate it.
Ease and Reassure Fears
Part of effective doctor-patient communication includes the ability to assuage a person’s worries and fears that may arise during a medical consultation. One suggestion for doctors is to use reassuring words to show that they’ll be helping patients with their problems.
Additionally, be mindful of the patient’s current emotional state. Observe the patient’s tone and body language, and use those cues to communicate medical details in the right manner.
Provide Written Instructions to Patients
Maintaining an open dialogue with patients is essential to patient care. Sometimes, patients may feel overwhelmed by the amount of information provided by their physician. Reinforce verbal explanations with written instructions. This helps avoid misunderstandings concerning treatment and follow-up consultations.
Reduce Physician Burnout
A report from the American Medical Association says that burnout hinders proper patient-doctor communication. Mentally and emotionally exhausted physicians are less likely to care about talking properly to patients. Clinicians that are experiencing burnout are also less inclined to figure out why patients aren’t following recommendations or refer them to another medical provider.
For example, I once called my former primary care physician after I sustained an injury. I was in an incredible amount of pain and the pain medicine wasn't helping. His response was to ask me “what do you expect me to do, I can't wave a magic wand to make the pain go away.” Notice, I said former primary care physician. His callous attitude was the final straw and I knew it was time to find a new doctor.
Doctors need to practice healthy habits for mental health, too. Given that burnout problems can originate from feeling overworked or overwhelmed, health care facilities can assist by using scheduling software to make balanced and fair schedules for all medical professionals.
These suggestions will help improve communication between doctors and patients. Effective communication leads to better job satisfaction for clinicians and a better health care experience for the patient.