Improving doctor-patient communication

Evidence suggests that problems with physician-patient communication are common. For example, studies show that:

  • 45% of patients’ concerns about their problems are not elicited by physicians;
  • 50% of psychosocial and psychiatric problems are missed by physicians;
  • in 50% of visits the patient and physician do not agree on the nature of the main presenting problem.
  • physicians interrupt patients, on average, 18 seconds into the patient’s description of the presenting problem.

So the majority of malpractice suits arise from communication errors not competency errors and patients’ most common complaint is the lack of information provided by physicians.

Of course, physicians can improve this situation. Here are some tips for improving doctor-patient communication:

  • Apologize if you kept them waiting.
  • Acknowledge them prior to the exam.
  • Use their name.
  • Demonstrate knowledge of their personal or family history.
  • Tell them what you will do during the exam before you do it.
  • Sit, if you can.
  • Touch their arm or shoulder while examining.
  • Ask open-ended questions sometimes.
  • Listen.
  • Make appropriate eye contact.
  • Inquire about the range of their concerns.
  • Apologize for and explain interruptions.
  • Involve the patient in planning treatment.