Improving Communication Between Doctors and Patients

October 16, 2019

Doctors have the difficult task of trying to quickly and fully understand and help each concerned patient that walks through their waiting room doors. Every patient has their own particular urgency or matter that needs a doctor’s attention and expertise. Since our health is a sensitive, and sometimes scary subject, interactions between doctor and patient can be fraught with misunderstandings and stress. Between time constraints, fear, and the many questions associated with health issues, this can be really frustrating for everyone involved.

As a doctor, this could result in unintentionally being too rushed, not not giving the patients enough time to ask all their questions, bad bedside manner, showing too little care while breaking bad news, or even misdiagnosing. As a patient, this can lead to anxiety, mistrust, and increased stress, which only makes the relationship more difficult.

Both health care professionals and patients alike, are fallible humans, so the practice of healthy conversational exchanges are encouraged, but in times of emergency, that can be hard. 

Let’s take a look at some important tips for both patients and doctors to help keep communication smooth and efficient, so your next appointment can be as stress-free as possible, and you can get the most out of your doctor’s visit.

For Patients

If you’re a patient who is dreading the next doctor’s appointment, don’t worry! Here are a few key tips to keep in mind that should improve your communication with your doctor.

Do Your Research

The internet is an excellent tool to do some research on symptoms and solutions to your potential condition. Remember, you have a doctor for a reason, so we don’t recommend going to the internet to self-diagnose, which can result in even more stress and anxiety. But doing some research can help you better understand and describe your symptoms so that you can communicate clearly (and it may even help put you at ease). 

A study published in the Journal of the American Osteopathic Association suggests that having a better idea of what you’re visiting the doctor for can help you be more calm as opposed to being completely in the dark about what’s going on.

With that said, remember to be open to your doctor’s suggestions, recommendations, and diagnosis if it differs from your research. The internet is a useful tool but there’s also a lot of misinformation out there! You may even want to ask your doctor for advice on reputable websites and online resources.

Ask Questions Until You Understand Fully

Try to make a list of questions before entering for your appointment, so you don’t leave feeling like something important got left out. You can’t always be prepared with questions about specific conditions, but here are a few key areas you can prepare:

Side Effects: If your doctor wants to prescribe a medication to you, ask about potential side effects and how they may impact your day-to-day activities. For example:

  • What the are most commonly-reported side effects?
  • Is there a lower dose that I can take to avoid the side effects?
  • Is there an alternative medication?

Alternative Routes: If you want to avoid prescription medications and surgery at all (or almost all) costs, be sure to speak with your doctor about alternative routes such as a natural treatment options, exercise, and dietary solutions. For example:

  • Is medication / surgery absolutely necessary?
  • Is there a different method of treatment that is equally as effective?

Cost of Treatment: With the best of intentions, doctors may prescribe a medication that is ideal for your condition, but not for your wallet. Be sure to talk with your doctor about generic options for medications as they are more cost-effective.

  • I cannot afford the brand name of this medication; is there a generic brand you can prescribe me?
  • Do you have any samples that I can take home to use? This would help with the cost.

Take Notes

According to the National Institutes of Health, one of the best things that you can do during a doctor’s visit is to take notes.

This can ensure you retain the doctor’s instructions, and it may also help to jar your memory if you have additional questions. Having detailed notes also acts as a form of accountability for you and your doctor. If you aren’t sure of something the doctor said, you can always refer back to your notes.

Be Understanding

Just as your doctor must be understanding of you and your condition, you should try to be understanding of them as well. Your doctor is supposed to be there for you, but keep in mind that he or she is only human. They may have spoken with dozens of patients before you, and they may be going through a difficult time in their own lives.

It’s easy to become angry and react accordingly, especially if you feel that your doctor isn’t giving you the level of care you need. Staying calm and collected and asking your doctor to speak to you with respect and address your concerns can help to diffuse a situation without any arguments.

For Doctors

A study published in Academic Medicine highlighted how important it is for doctors to be able to effectively get all of the information they need from their patients in order to make a proper diagnosis through good communication and interpersonal skills. Here are some key tips for doctors to help improve the relationship and quality of communication with their patients.

Body Language

As a doctor, your body language is the most important thing you need to be conscious of, according to a study published in the Ochsner Journal.

While you may not be perfect every time, it’s essential to continually be improving your bedside manner; this includes directing your attention, focus, and body toward the patient. Remain physically open; try not to cross your arms or stare at your papers the entire time, or otherwise signal that their health concerns are not important to you.

Coming off as cold or impatient can immediately put up a wall between you and a potentially nervous person you are trying to help. Though this may sound harmless, the result could be that you don’t get the extra piece of information you need from the patient, and that could potentially lead to a misdiagnosis.

Be Understanding

A study in the British Medical Journal highlights one type of negative behavior called “avoidance behavior” that doctors can sometimes participate in without realizing it. Perhaps in response to a negative event in the past, doctors may assign face-to-face interaction to another staff member or limit their time with the patient.

It’s important to put yourself in the patient’s shoes, especially if there is talk of a serious condition such as cancer or a chronic illness. Remember that the patient does not have the information you do, which is why they are in your office. Out of all the other doctors, they’ve chosen to visit you for answers. The patient could be nervous and scared. Be understanding with your patients and show your patients that their concerns are your concerns.

Remember Why You Started

After years of practice, difficult patients, and stressful paperwork from insurance companies, it’s completely understandable that you’ll feel burned out. This is why it’s so important to take a step back to reflect on your situation and remember why you started the journey to be a doctor in the first place.

Whether it’s old journal entries, pictures, or some other form of memories, take a look at those things that inspire you to be positive and make a difference in the world.

Go Prepared, but Be Understanding

Whether you’re a physician or a patient, it’s essential to walk into the office prepared to be kind, courteous, and understanding. Life can be tough, but choosing to react in a positive way can immediately turn a tense situation around. Communicate what you want to get a better understanding of, take notes, ask questions, and have patience through the process of interviewing and learning from your healthcare professional.

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