How to communicate with patients

March 1, 2008

Poor communication skills are a frequently cited factor in a patient's decision to leave a practice or even pursue a malpractice claim against a physician.

Key Points

Regrettably, communication skills were not given proper emphasis in the formal education of many practicing physicians. This is especially true in our specialty, where the encounter may require a discussion of sensitive subjects with a person we have just met. This article will provide 10 practical suggestions that may improve your communication skills and thus enhance your patient's experience with you and your practice.

To avoid this possible misunderstanding, we suggest that the first 2 minutes of the new patient interview be devoted to non-medical questions. Examples that help establish a general rapport include, "What kind of work do you do?," "Where do you work?," "How long have you been retired?," or "Where do you live?" Usually one of these questions will lead to additional talking points that make your patients feel you are interested in them as people and not as organ systems.

Use icebreakers for established patients. For patients who return to the office, we suggest that the first 30 seconds be dedicated to non-medical discussion. "How was your vacation?" or "How are your children?" are examples of non-medical icebreakers that allow patients to believe you are as interested in them as you are about their voiding symptoms or their ability to engage in sexual intimacy.