One of the keys to getting the healthcare you need is open, honest communication. You need to share all pertinent information with you doctor to ensure you receive the correct diagnosis and treatment. But communication is a two-way street. Your doctor also needs to be a good communicator. So how can you determine if your physician has the needed communication skills?
How doctor-patient communication can impact your health
Good medicine requires good communication. Richard Street, a professor of communication and research professor of medicine at Texas A & M University has studied clinician-patient communication and healthcare outcomes for two decades. His research has found that open communication between patients and physicians can have positive impact on the care delivered. Patients who are actively engaged in talking with their doctors get more and better information, have a better understanding of their health issues and available treatment options, and receive therapies that are more tailored to their individual situation. In addition, he found that good communication can lead to a more patient-centered treatment plan, one that the patient is more likely to comply with. That in turn can result in improved health outcomes.
In contrast, when a physician and patient do not communicate well, the risk of the patient misunderstanding the diagnosis or treatment options increases substantially. If a patient feels that his or her doctor will be dismissive of concerns or questions, that patient is less likely to raise these issues, which can lower the likelihood that the patient will follow the treatment plan.
What good communication looks like in healthcare
There are several questions to consider when thinking about whether you and your doctor are communicating well.
- Does your physician only use technical, medical terminology or does she or he also use plain language that you can easily understand when explaining your health issues and proposed treatments?
- Does your doctor ask open-ended questions that allow you to explain why you scheduled the appointment and any concerns that you have?
- Do you have your doctor’s full attention? Your doctor should make eye contact with you and be actively listening without rushing or interrupting you.
- Are you providing your doctor with all the information needed to make an accurate diagnosis?
- Does your doctor give you time to ask questions and does he or she answer those questions with empathy and in a way that you can understand?
- Does your doctor ask you to describe your treatment plan back to him or her in your own words to make sure you understand? Studies have found that almost 80 percent of information patients receive is forgotten immediately after an appointment and nearly half of the information they do remember is incorrect.
- Is your physician distracted by technology? Most doctors now have a laptop or tablet in the exam room to take notes and review test results. While this technology can be helpful for creating a comprehensive, electronic medical record, your doctor shouldn’t spend the whole appointment staring at the screen rather than interacting with you.
By working together to ensure that you communicate honestly, sensitively and clearly, you and your doctor can be more effective partners in your care.