4 strategies to improve doctor-patient communication

Doctor with patient
Training can help doctors improve their communication skills.

Some basic steps taught to doctors during a hospital-wide training program improved patients’ perception of their physicians' communication skills.

The training program, which outlined best practices for doctors to follow when interacting with patients, improved communication by 9% as measured in the Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Provider Systems survey, according to a study in the American Journal of Medical Quality.

With evidence that poor bedside manners can hurt both patient satisfaction scores and finances, more hospitals are putting a high priority on physician empathy.

The study of patients at the University of Utah Health Care in Salt Lake City details the largest known experiment of its kind and describes training that other hospitals can easily implement, according to a study announcement.

Here’s are four best practices:

  • Observe basic courtesies, such as knocking before entering examination rooms, closing doors or curtains to ensure privacy and sitting at eye level with patients
  • Talk to patients about their own observations, such as pain levels and symptoms, and report the results of exams and tests, and summarize health problems and treatment plans
  • Use simple language with patients
  • Ask if patients have any questions or concerns

One doctor, Danielle Orfi, M.D., who works at Bellevue Hospital in New York , says it may take less time than physicians think to listen to a patient without interruption, according to a Sheridan Healthcare report. She used a stop watch to time how long patients talked when she asked them how she could help them. Even one of her most ‘difficult’ patients, who had a wide range of chronic conditions, talked for only four minutes. “Just talking about all this has actually made me feel better,” the patient told her before she left the appointment.