3 Little Known Physician Patient Communication Tactics

Physician Patient Communication Tactics

Good communication with your patients requires that you both recognize their expertise in their own health and respond to them with empathy. Patient-centered care like this may not always be easy, as shown by Marvel et al.’s finding that 90 percent of complaints about physicians relate to their communication style. Yet, the important yet lesser-known physician patient tactics of slowing down, appreciating patient world view, and having patients summarize discussion lead to significant improvements in clinical outcomes and overall patient satisfaction.

1. Slow Down

Marvel et al.’s research also revealed that physicians who communicate at a slow and deliberate pace are better understood by patients, especially when it comes to new information. Yet, on average, medical professionals only wait around 20 seconds before interrupting an individual’s initial description of their problems. To prevent missing information, you should use the following physician patient communication tactics:

  • Pause frequently to allow listeners to form questions,
  • Replace long monologues with short, customized explanations,
  • Reinforce silences with open body language,
  • And use questions and dialogue to check patient understanding.

In the process, be sure to tailor provided information to each patient, as, for instance, 20 to 40 percent of individuals 60 to 80 years old surveyed by the US Census never finished high school. The information that you gain will help you learn more about each person, adapt information to their needs, and improve their comprehension, all while minimizing emotional distress.

2. Engage with Beliefs

Physicians rely upon a biomedical perspective, but patients use cultural beliefs and personal values for decision-making. As a result, Ha and Longnecker note that providers confront distrust, competing therapies, or even lack of agreement to treatment. However, the best solution is to develop their cultural competency. In particular, the following physician patient communication tactics ensure collaboration, especially when dealing with cultural or language-based divides.

  • Describe a problem medically and ask the patient to summarize it in order to reveal their bias,
  • Recognize and respect patient world views, including values, beliefs, and expectations,
  • Assess language fluency and world view to help adapt your communication methods,
  • Be aware of your own cultural and personal biases and beliefs,
  • Lastly, customize care to align with patients’ standards.

From there, you can identify and resolve potential barriers to communication and treatment alike. As Platt and Keating have shown in research on urinary tract infections, such an approach will improve adherence to the care plan, even as it reduces recurrence over time.

3. Close the Loop

Research from the American Academy of Family Physicians shows that half of all patients leave their doctor’s office having misunderstood something. In large part, this is due to the limited amount of time allotted for communication. Although this problem is unavoidable, a technique called “closing the loop” can help prevent it. In particular, this method involves the following:

  • Start a dialogue about each of your top priorities,
  • Then, alternate asking and telling to assess their knowledge,
  • Evaluate how prepared they are for their stated goals,
  • Next, set realistic, manageable, and measurable goals,
  • Last, close the loop by having them repeat what was discussed.

These physician patient communication tactics make it possible to quickly and carefully communicate with patients by setting a clear agenda. Furthermore, closing the loop by having them verbalize their understanding gives you the chance to correct misunderstandings.

The above physician patient communication tactics may be less well-known than some like active listening. Yet, they are just as powerful in ensuring the clarity of your explanations of problems and related treatments. Furthermore, avoiding misunderstandings ensures a high quality of care, which will, in turn, raise patient quality of life.

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