Doctor-Patient Communication: Basic Expectations and Principles

«The patient will never care how much you know until they know how much you care. » – S.Terry Canale, MD

Compassionate and effective doctor-patient communication is a key factor influencing therapeutic relationships.

Today’s doctors face numerous challenges that impede patient-doctor relationships. For example, they must maintain clinical productivity while effectively treating their patients. Can they afford less time with each patient while doing so?

Effective doctor-patient communication is at the heart of essential and healthy doctor-patient relationships.

Here are some quick pieces of advice for doctors to help improve the patients’ experience:
• Do not overestimate your communication skills.
• Regularly review the literature on doctor-patient communication.
• Use the patient-centered interviewing technique.
• Involve the help of advanced practice nurses, assistants, and clinical laboratories.
• Implement e-communication with established patients.

The breakdown in the doctor-patient relationship eventually leads to complaints and patients’ dissatisfaction. Let us discuss the basic expectations and principles of effective doctor-patient communication in detail.

The Main Factors Influencing the Communication

These are the basic factors that lay in the core of effective communication between the patients and clinicians:

1. Doctor’s Experience and Qualifications
First and foremost, a flexible doctor who can easily adapt to changing needs, patients’ requirements, and situations is nearly a guarantee of effective communication. Along with perfected professional skills, a doctor should be a personable, open-minded, tolerant, sympathetic, resourceful, generally positive, and optimistic person. It is necessary to develop not only specific professional knowledge, but also to learn continuously from the feedback between the patients and clinicians and be ready to adjust strategies.

2. Patient’s Characteristics
To build a personalized approach to health care and meet a patient’s expectations, a doctor should bear the gender, social class, age, education, and a patient’s desire for information in mind.

3. Interaction Factors
The differences between a doctor and a patient in terms of age, social status, attitudes, beliefs, and expectations affect the quality of doctor-patient communication too. That is why a professional should strive to be aware of all possible misunderstandings and be able to address problems before they arise.
• Assure your patients that they have access to all relevant doctors so that the alternative clinicians’ opinions can be embraced.
• Tell patients about all possible options they have as a patient, including the alternatives, risks, costs, and benefits – make sure they know enough to trust you.
• Provide a full review of the treatment strategy to your patient, set up a shared agenda and specific goals.
• Share all necessary information including clinical laboratory testing results, discuss all options in the context of a patient’s preferences, concerns, and goals.
• Keep your relationships transparent.

4. Situational Factors & Circumstantial Adversity
Along with all the factors mentioned above, some situational factors are not always possible to predict:
• Patient load and the amount of time you can dedicate to one patient.
• Level of acquaintance with the problem.
• The clinic environment, service quality, and patients’ comfort level.
• The cost and complexity of a treatment.

How to Improve Doctor-Patient Communication: Key Strategies

Importantly, a doctor should constantly work on their communication skills. Being ready to inform, whether the news is good or bad, sharing information comprehensively and concisely – potentially by utilizing visual aids such as test results like MyPerioPath®, and providing psychological support to reduce patients’ feelings of isolation help facilitate effective doctor-patient communication.

Take part in communication skills training that facilitate answering open-ended questions, negotiations, clarifications, and giving frequent summaries.

Improve your conflict management skills to be able to minimize avoidance behavior and recognize the first signals of problematic responses in patients.

And finally, always stick to the life-long learning approach in all areas of your professional development because it is humanity’s health and life in your hands.

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Vicki Moto
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