Doctor-patient communication is absolutely critical for a good doctor-patient relationship.
In recent years, the nature of doctor-patient communication has changed. Not only do healthcare practitioners communicate with their patients at appointments, but they also follow up with them on the phone. Sometimes, conversations happen through email and video chat, too.
With the onset of more doctors offering telehealth services, more patients are seeking to communicate in a variety of different ways. Also, as growing a medical practice becomes more competitive in urban areas, many doctors are scratching their heads and wondering what they can do to retain their patients.
What’s one way to retain patients and score glowing reviews? Good doctor patient communication.
What is a physician patient relationship?
The physician-patient relationship is a professional and interpersonal connection between a doctor and their patient, in which the doctor is providing medical care and guidance to a patient. It’s built on trust, open communication, and respect, allowing patients to share symptoms, concerns and there most personal information. With this information, doctors can personalize care and talk through options with patients. It’s important to note, patient care is not just the service is the seat but the end-to-end experience from the point a patient finds your practice online to returning to for future visits.
Why is doctor patient communication important?
Good communication is essential for improving health and medical care for patients. Without clear communication, the overall quality of patient care can quickly decline. Poor communication can prevent patients from understanding their diagnosis, reduce effective treatment outcomes, and even decrease their levels of hopefulness.
Benefits of good doctor patient communication
In addition to general benefits of better patient outcomes, good doctor patient communication has been proven to influence a wide array of positive outcomes for both doctors and patients.
- Leads to more accurate diagnosis
- Patients are more likely to follow treatment plans
- Reduces blood pressure for patients
- Increases the chance of the patient continuing to see their healthcare provider
- Decreases frustrations for both doctors and patients
- For doctors, it increases job satisfaction and decreases work stress
How should doctors communicate with patients?
In general, doctors should always be courteous and have good bedside table manners. However, the way doctors communicate with patients should take into account how healthcare has shifted over the years. Many patients now like to be involved in their own medical decisions, so doctors should expect that and be willing to explain things in layman’s terms to their patients.
However, some of the responsibilities of good communication fall on the patient as well. Communication is a two-way street, so patients also have to make sure they’re being active listeners and communicators with their doctors. Healthcare professionals can help patients build better communication skills by allowing patients to ask questions, setting boundaries, and being open to your patient’s point of view.
It can be helpful to set up scripts for common questions and situations you deal with in the office. For example, for patients that like to ask questions and chat, you could say something along the lines of:
“We’ll have 20 minutes to discuss any questions you have today. If you have any other questions, please email or text the office tomorrow and I’ll get back to you.”
Communication with Patients’ Families
Another common doctor patient communication scenario can occur when a family member tags along to your patient’s appointment and also hopes to have their health concerns addressed.
Family members accompanying patients to appointments can help enrich the overall doctor patient communication. In many cases, they can help shed a different light on the situation at hand. However, abnormal family relationships or overbearing parents can quickly turn a productive appointment into a futile one.
Below you’ll find a list of common family issues and their resolutions from a 2011 article in the American Family Physician. Please note that these issues and resolutions don’t apply if a family member is attending the appointment to assist with a patient’s physical impairment or disability, mental impairment or disability, or any sort of communication impairment or disability.
- Family member talking over the patient
- Directly address the patient and ask them to answer
- Family member asking all of the questions
- Ask the patient directly if they have questions
- Familial abuse is suspected based on patient behavior or physical exam
- Ask the family member to leave the room, and give the patient the chance to explain any concerns they have
- Generally overbearing family member that imparts feelings of nervousness in the patient
- Use the physical exam as a time to excuse the family member from the room and give the patient a chance to speak
- Family member is overly-emotional during the appointment
- Recognize the feelings expressed by the family member, but don’t allow them to derail the focus from the patient
- Family member refuses to leave the room, even though the patient is conversing fine
- Firmly rephrase the need for privacy to complete a physical exam and assess for signs of abuse
- Family members are arguing with the patient
- Avoid taking sides (unless abuse is suspected, then assess for abuse and treat appropriately). A family therapist referral may be needed
How can doctors improve their communication skills in-person?
A 2017 study provides concrete ways that doctors can improve communication with their patients, including:
- Standard courtesies and manners such as:
- Knocking before entering
- Washing hands after entering the room
- Closing the door or curtain for privacy
- Sitting at eye level with patients
- Shaking hands with patients
- Explaining treatment plans in layman’s terms
- Clearly explaining when the patient has to return for an appointment
- Making sure the patient or their family members have no follow up questions before leaving the room
It’s also important to note that other medical staff can affect doctor patient communication. For example, if a patient interacts with a happy medical receptionist and has a reasonable wait time, they’ll likely be much more receptive to openly communicating in the exam room with their doctor.
Ways to improve communication in healthcare
Doctor patient communication applications such as NexHealth can help medical professionals better communicate with patients. Good communication doesn’t stop at the office. Patients will often have follow-up questions or forget when they were supposed to come back in for an appointment. Neglecting out-of-office communication can lead to feelings of dissatisfaction, so it’s important to make sure you have follow-up communication tools in place. With the right software, doctor patient communication becomes much more efficient.
NexHealth is full of user-friendly features that help doctors communicate better with patients, such as:
- Two-Way Messaging
- Sending Appointment Reminders
- Automatically send post-op instructions
- Automatically send hygiene reminders
- Follow up with patients who missed their appointment
- Online Booking
- Telehealth Services
In today’s landscape, both patients and doctors need to focus on their communication skills. It helps patients maintain better health outcomes, helps doctors retain happy patients, and reduces the overall stress of doctor patient interactions. By coupling good communication skills with an online healthcare management software like NexHealth, you can provide better, personalized communication to your patients in less time than before.