“I like my doctor.”
Those four words are the most critical factor in patient choice. According to a paper published by the University of Michigan, communication is one of the most essential factors in determining why a patient chooses and sticks with a physician—or why a patient “likes” their doctor.
Many physicians have spent a decade or more of their lives receiving training and education that covers the science of treating patients. However, doctor education is rarely focused on the art of carefully communicating with patients. Improving a doctor’s communication skills can directly translate to better patient retention. More importantly, research shows that excellent doctor communication skills directly translate into better quality of life for patients.
The personal touch
Some physicians are very much like computer technicians—great at science, bad at people. Between technical jargon, time pressures, and the desire to solve a problem, many physicians forget that communicating with the actual patient is part of the job.
Here are a few ways physicians can improve their in-person patient skills:
Observe non-verbal cues
Does the patient appear uncomfortable or nervous? Do you suspect they are just nodding even when they do not understand what you are saying? Physical observations are just as important as what the patient says. Address your concerns with the patient. Putting the patient at ease will increase the doctor-patient bond and patient trust.
Consider your own non-verbal cues
While it is important to read a patient’s non-verbal cues, it is also essential for a physician to be aware of his or her own non-verbal cues. Making eye contact with the patient, reading essential information before entering the room, and other body language that communicates engagement are important to patients. Physicians should avoid negative body language, such as folded arms or turning their bodies away from patients.
Conveying information to your patient is essential in their recovery; it’s not just what you say, but also how you say it.
Physicians should avoid using judgmental language when delivering information to clients. For example, instead of telling a patient he or she needs to lose weight, try framing the issue more positively. Tell the patient how weight loss could improve their quality of life and explain any other benefits. Offering encouragement and empathy is not only more effective, but will also go a long way toward building a relationship and trust with the patient.
Discussing the emotional impact of a patient’s medical condition can be stressful for both patients and doctors. An article published in The Ochsner Journal suggested that some physicians avoid discussing these sensitive issues, which in turn alienates patients and jeopardizes their willingness to disclose important information.
While having discussions about the emotional or social impact of an illness can be extremely delicate, it is better for both physicians and patients to discuss these issues openly and honestly.
Doctors who seek to improve their communication skills will find their reward in a more fulfilling career, greater success in treatment, and more satisfied patients.