How to Improve Doctor-Patient Communications

Doctor Gil Lederman

With increasing demands on a doctor’s time and energy, doctor-patient communications can easily slide. However, the benefits of establishing communication protocols will benefit sole practitioners, shared practices, clinics and large facilities with faster and fuller patient recoveries, less returns from the same ailments, more patient and physician satisfaction with results, and lower medical malpractice rates.

Following are some suggestions on how to improve communication and still meet the time schedule that you must to see all your patients and also keep the books in the black.

Ask questions and listen

You’ve probably read it a thousand times, listen to what your patient says. But let’s face it, just going to the doctor can be an intimidating experience to many people. So there are some questions you can ask that might help open up the discussion. Listen to their answers completely before proposing a solution.

Ask open ended questions such as, “What problem did you come here for?” What are
you most concerned could happen?” and “What do you believe I could do to help?” A single question that you could ask would be “How can I be of the most help to you today?” When the patient has answered these questions, you will have an idea of what they believe will be a satisfactory treatment. Then you can address their answers, which may be right on point or not, but you will know if something needs further discussion.

Another way to open communications is to encourage patients or their caregivers to email you with questions or concerns. Studies reveal that nearly 80% of patients forget what was said in the doctor’s office immediately and what they do remember is not correct about half the time. Emails from patients and caregivers will give you an idea of what is happening in their home environment and could easily be replied to by knowledgeable staff members, saving time on the doctor’s behalf.

Share the load

There is so much that needs to happen in a doctor’s appointment these days, all the computer input, the communication with the patient, the encouragement toward healthier habits and actions, need for regular tests such as a mammogram, and a myriad of other items to address. All of that being accomplished in less than 15 minutes is not just a tall order, the stress for both physician and patient is likely to increase. Sharing some of that load with nurses, PA’s, and other staff members is not just more
efficient, it is more effective.

For common ailments such as High Blood Pressure, Diabetes, or others, it may be helpful to address on your clinic website and simply refer patients to that for more detailed explanations. Brochures might also be a possibility. Just keep them easily understood by your patients.

Follow the guidelines we learned as children: stop – don’t jump in with an answer right away, look – spend some time during every visit when the patient is talking that you are looking them in the eyes, and listen – to answers they give to your questions. You might even have a challenge to your patients that they ask at least 2-3 questions during each
visit with you.

Better communication will benefit your patients, but maybe even be more beneficial to you and your practice. Patients who feel they have been understood and are an active party in their treatment will be more likely to recover faster and feel a high level of satisfaction with your care. And, at the end of the day, all of the financial benefits aside, you will feel a deeper satisfaction in your work and able to leave some of that stress behind.

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