A doctor has to spend a lot of time honing their skills to be successful. Medical school is a grueling process that lasts for many years, designed to train healthcare experts who can diagnose and treat many medical conditions.
Part of this training includes gaining familiarity with human anatomy and with common and uncommon diseases alike. Doctors and other healthcare professionals then have to continue training throughout their careers, as medical science and technology progress.
However, doctors need more than knowledge, skills, and experience to provide the best standard of care. A doctor or nurse needs to be able to effectively communicate with their patients. This post will explore why good communication is so vital and how you can improve your ability to communicate with patients.
Why Communication Matters in Healthcare
In every way, poor communication can lead to tragedy while good communication massively improves the patient’s chance to recover. Medical errors are largely caused by miscommunication somewhere down the line.
As well as potentially tragic consequences for the patient, miscommunication that leads to a poor standard of care can be incredibly damaging to the healthcare provider. If the patient or the family of the patient finds that their treatment was subpar due to communication issues, then they may be willing to sue. A lawsuit can be devastating to healthcare practice, and careers have been ended because of malpractice accusations and suits.
Doctors need to communicate with their patients and their team members alike. It’s a major aspect of providing proper care and poor communication can have dire consequences.
Communication Within a Medical Team
For example, if a clinic fails to share accurate patient information with another facility, then test results can get lost in the ether or even swapped with another patient. These test results could be necessary for a diagnosis. If a patient is misdiagnosed due to poor communication, then they could become very ill or even die, all for a preventable error.
Healthcare professionals also often discuss how to treat patients, especially in a hospital setting or for complicated cases. If these professionals don’t clearly define treatment options and communicate what treatment has been used for a patient, then a patient can be over, or under, medicated. This, as you can expect, could have severe consequences.
However, quick and accurate communication can make it far easier to successfully treat a patient. Reliable test results make a correct diagnosis possible, which will lead to appropriate treatment. Communicating with team members about treatment options can help doctors to formulate a treatment that will most benefit the patient.
Communication With a Patient
Good doctor-to-patient communication is a two-way street. A doctor has to know what the patient is concerned about to have any hope of making a diagnosis. They should be able to encourage the patient to describe symptoms and other concerns so that they have somewhere to start. This way, the doctor knows what tests to perform and order.
If a doctor doesn’t get an accurate history from their patient, then it will be far more difficult to diagnose and treat the patient. Doctors need to know if a patient has allergies or pre-existing conditions that may interfere with treatment options. They also need an idea of the patient’s lifestyle, as some conditions are either caused or complicated by a patient’s lifestyle.
Once the doctor has a diagnosis, then they need to accurately communicate and explain the treatment options to the patient. This way, a patient can bear the doctor’s recommendation in mind and make an informed choice about their treatment.
A doctor should also explain what is expected of the patient so that their treatment can be successful. If the patient doesn’t understand that they need to stop smoking, for example, then their treatment may be hindered. If medication is prescribed, the patient should also be aware of correct dosages and any side effects or warnings associated with that medication.
Improving Doctor-to-Patient Communication
It’s clear that improving communication across the board is vital for medical professionals. The good news is that doctor-to-patient communication can be worked on, which helps doctors continually improve this vital skill.
Whether doctors are communicating with other healthcare professionals or with their patients, then appropriate training will always be a vital aspect of improving their skills.
Each healthcare system uses varying forms of communication to transmit information, share findings, and collaborate with colleagues. It’s important that everyone involved in communication is trained to use these systems correctly.
A minor mistake can put patient safety at risk, so administrators and other staff should also be able to double-check for typos or other errors. Patient data should be shared quickly and efficiently with any relevant service so that the information can be easily compiled into a thorough medical history. A thorough and accurate medical history is one way to guarantee good care.
As well as training designed to improve communication with colleagues, doctors should also be trained to help them effectively communicate with their patients. For example, students in medical school are taught how to gather accurate patient history, but this is a skill that doctors should continue to hone.
Some training also improves bedside manner. As the name suggests, bedside manner refers to a doctor’s ability to interact with an unwell patient. A good bedside manner can make the patient feel more comfortable with you and improves their mood, as well as making them more likely to tell a doctor vital information.
Basic Communication Skills
Formal training is a fantastic way to continue to develop your communication skills, but there are other strategies that need practice. One of the most important steps to good communication is to be approachable.
Your patients are likely in a vulnerable position and may even be embarrassed by their medical concerns. Be warm, open, and empathetic. This will help you to build rapport and help your patient to feel more comfortable when they’re talking to you.
Every doctor needs a measure of emotional distance between them and the patient, for the good of the patient and yourself, but that doesn’t mean that you have to be cold and imperious. You want to encourage the patient to open up to you, and that sometimes requires effort.
As well as being approachable, it’s important that doctors are clear and direct with their patients. While you might be familiar with complex medical terms, your patients probably haven’t been to medical school. Use plain language and make sure that they understand the implications of what you have to say. The patients will appreciate it.
Doctors should always be focused on every interaction with their patients. As stated before, distraction or miscommunication can lead to mistakes, which can be fatal in this industry. While you might have many patients on your mind, during an appointment, you should only pay attention to your current case.
When thinking of doctor-to-patient communication, a lot of people mainly focus on in-person communication. In an ideal situation, this is how you would communicate with your patients most of the time. However, there are times when it’s beneficial to become familiar with remote communication options and to consider implementing them in your practice.
The first point of contact may be before you meet your patient. Many doctors offer a live chat service so that patients can immediately speak to a doctor from the comfort of their own homes. They should visit a doctor at some point, but a quick online chat can help both doctor and patient to get an idea of what might be going on so that your first appointment can be more fruitful. Visit this page for information regarding live chat services and how you can use them to communicate with your patients.
One older form of remote communication is via telephone. Many patients prefer to be able to call either the emergency services or the non-emergency line. Some doctors offer phone appointments so that they can speak directly to a patient. Make sure the line is clear so that both sides can hear the conversation perfectly.
Another popular remote communication option is a video call. During the height of the pandemic, some countries implemented a video call option so that patients didn’t have to visit the practice in person. While the doctor can’t examine the patient as effectively, they can still see the patient and have a natural conversation with them. Then, if necessary, they can recommend an in-person appointment.
Some older patients need constant monitoring. However, these patients can retain a measure of independence by using a remote monitoring system. Rather than the patient having to visit the doctor every week or so, or a nurse constantly checking them, their vital signs can be monitored from home.
A remote monitoring system doesn’t replace regular visits to the doctor or check-ins from a nurse. However, it does allow the doctor to monitor the patient’s health. While this communication isn’t with the patient directly, it does allow a constant point of contact with their health, so the doctor will know immediately when something goes wrong. Remote monitoring can also be used for diagnostic services.