Doctors are often required to do it all—be the medical expert, the emotional and physical healer, and the empathetic counselor. It’s really no surprise that physicians must wear so many hats. The aging of the baby boomers, as well as the increased number of the U.S. population seeking medical care under the Affordable Care Act, means doctors are being called upon more often. Therefore, excellent doctor/patient communication, a fundamental need in the delivery of health care, is more apparent now than ever before. Medical practitioners must effectively and efficiently use the time they have with patients. The communication hat physicians wear is an important one and can impact the care they provide.
Medical schools are becoming more aware of the need to teach and emphasize communication between patient and doctor. Four key considerations from, “Patient-Doctor Communication: The Fundamental Skill of Medical Practice” for the University of Michigan Health System jump out as critical elements that medical practitioners must be implementing.
1. The first impression is critical. A handshake, a look in the eye, a genuine desire to sit and listen to the patient’s problem can go a long way toward building a relationship with that patient. As a patient feels at ease and begins to build rapport with the medical professional, he or she feels safe and is more able to express concerns. Harlan Krumholz, MD, a member of “The Experts” (an exclusive group of industry experts for the Wall Street Journal) reiterated that the “nature of relationships needs to be a consideration [in the treatment of patients], not just the bottom line.”
2. Unrealistic expectations should be left at the door. A key aspect in relationship building is for doctors to remember and enter the patient room without judgement or bias. A doctor should be aware of appropriate language (including cultural sensitivities), as well as non-verbal communication that could cause a patient to be apprehensive about developing the relationship.
3. Proper questioning in the interview portion of a patient visit is essential. Doctors in the interview process of an exam should use both open and closed-ended questions. Leading questions should be avoided and the patient should not feel bombarded by multiple questions at once. Even more vital is listening to the answers the patient provides. This allows a physician to recognize moments of empathy that can further relationship building. (For more on this, view a recent HealthComU post about care provider empathy).
4. Collaboration should be encouraged. Physicians should not be seen as lone rangers, but rather as quarterbacks involving all members of a team. Deliberate delegation of care to a pharmacist, counselor, or other allied health professional may allow patients to receive information from the expert in that sub-category of health care.
Doctors provide exceptional health care each and every day. With just a few simple additions or tweaks in the way they communicate with patients, doctors will be well on their way to providing excellent care that will build relationships with a loyal patient base.