Better listening leads to better patient care

Doctor examining patient

Photo credit: Getty/kazoka30

While much of the focus in healthcare today is on quality measurements and changes in reimbursement models, the best healthcare results really come about when the patient-doctor relationship is built on trust.

That’s the change Vikas Saini, M.D., a cardiologist and president of the Lown Institute in Brookline, Massachusetts, wants to create with Right Care Action Week, which kicked off October 17. The goal of this event is to get thousands of nurses, doctors and patient advocates listening to Americans talk about their health and the healthcare they receive.

“Listening promotes healing and causes no harm. In fact, it’s the bedrock of a genuine trusting relationship--something everyone wants from their doctors and nurses,” he writes in STAT. “In the tone of voice, in the subtlety of the pattern of pain, in getting the sequence of events right--that’s how a correct diagnosis is made and the person emerges from the patient. If all healthcare providers listened better, we would save billions of dollars and transform the system.”

An experience with one of Saini’s patients made real the power of this trusting relationship. The patient asked Saini for a second opinion after another cardiologist told her she needed open heart surgery but she wanted to postpone the operation. After reviewing her cardiac ultrasound--but, more importantly, spending time with her and realizing that she worked out many times a week with no symptoms--he decided to monitor her condition every six months. Recently, 10 years after the original diagnosis, she had the heart valve replaced.

Lesson learned? His patient's wish to put off surgery until after her retirement really was the right decision. Had Saini not taken the time to get to know his patient, the outcome could have been very different.