EFFECTIVE DOCTOR PATIENT COMMUNICATIONS
Patients who rate communication with their physicians as excellent are four times more likely to believe they have received excellent health care than those who do not. Also patients who like the way their physician communicates with them are more likely to comply with their doctor's recommendations and less likely to sue for medical malpractice in the event of a negative outcome.
Good doctor-patient communication is influenced by a combination of physician attitudes, behaviours, and interpersonal skills. This paper integrates practical suggestions for enhancing doctor-patient communication as gleaned from a number of excellent guides on this topic.
METHODS OF IMPROVING COMMUNICATIONS – THE DOCTORS ROLE
The onus of improving communications is not only the doctors’ responsibility. The patient also has to contribute. Methods that a doctor can undertake to improve communications areas discussed in the following paragraphs.
Show Empathy and Respect
Empathy is conveyed when you behave in ways that let your patients know that you care about what they are experiencing. Even a simple statement such as "I'm sorry that you're having these problems" goes a long way in conveying empathy. Some important points a doctor must keep in mind and apply at all times are as follows: -
Practice putting yourself in the patient's shoes.
Assume the stance of "servant," and remember that showing the patient compassion and understanding is an important part of your job as a physician.
Look for reasons behind a patient's problematic behaviour.
Pay close attention to nonverbal cues about how the patient is feeling.
A few commonsense courtesies will convey to patients that you respect them as people. Before beginning a medical examination, introduce yourself and everyone else in the room, and orient the patient to what you are about to do. Question patients thoroughly, letting them know that you are concerned about their medical symptoms and their general well-being. When time allows, ask about problems of daily living, relationships, and feelings. Often, a simple "How are you doing otherwise?" will suffice.
Clarity Conveys Competence
In the eyes of patients, competent physicians are those who are able to explain medical matters in terms the patients can understand. Nearly 50% of college-educated patients say they leave their doctors' offices not clear about some aspect of their care. Patients will not follow through with recommendations they do not understand. Give clear, complete, step-by-step instructions, and never use excessive technical jargon.
Learn to Listen
Would your patients describe you as being a good listener? If you do not know how your patients would answer this question, consider asking them. A recent survey of 947 medical patients conducted in America indicated that 93% of patients who stated that their doctor was a good listener also indicated high levels of confidence in their doctor's advice; in contrast, only approximately 10% of those who rated their doctors as poor listeners expressed confidence in them.
Develop Cultural Competence
Extraordinary doctors avoid making assumptions about their patients based on race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, or even past encounters. In short, extraordinary doctors are culturally competent. Competence refers to the ability to understand and work with patients whose beliefs, values, and histories are significantly different from your own.
Research has suggested that medical education may not promote cultural sensitivity. For example, 62% of medical students report that they have been exposed to antigay comments during medical training, and 50% of non-white medical students report experiencing racial or ethnic slurs during training. Remaining open to cultural differences is made difficult by the...
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