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Communication Tips for Physicians

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The art of good communication is critical to patient care. While it can be simple to just assume that everyone understands your thought process and that your instructions or requests make sense, taking the time to be a careful communicator can make the difference between having a good rapport with patients and having a reputation for excellence. Here are some helpful tips that can help you to make communicating with your patients more effective than ever.

Make it easy.

While you may feel as if you’re being insulting by “dumbing down” your instructions or explanations, keeping things as simple as possible makes communicating and understanding important points easier. Give concise, clear instructions and explanations that are easy to follow and understand. Leave open opportunities for questions or clarification throughout the conversation. Listen to the questions they are asking and offer related information that they may find relevant or useful.

Watch body language.

Many times, the body language of the person you are talking to can speak volumes about how clearly you are communicating your points. Watch for eye contact, facial expression changes, and signs of them “shutting down” with folded arms or turning slightly away. You may need to change your approach or give them a chance to ask for clarification. Monitoring your own body language when speaking is just as important as looking for physical signs in the person to whom you are speaking. Be aware of what your body positioning is saying and adjust to fit the conversation where necessary.

Listen carefully.

All good communicators are also good listeners. By listening to the responses and concerns of those you are speaking with, you can easily determine whether your own contributions to the conversation are clear. You may realize that you missed sharing crucial information or you may receive feedback that you need to address. When the lines of communication go both ways, everyone sees a little more clearly.

Consider their opinions and feelings.

A great communicator takes into account the opinions and feelings of others and uses their thoughts and feedback. If a patient has a legitimate reason for wanting or not wanting to attempt a specific line of treatment, discuss the options with them and work together to form an acceptable treatment plan or course of action.

Involve a third party.

In many cases, it is best to have a family member or friend involved in conversations, particularly with patients that may have complex or difficult diagnoses. Having an extra set of ears on hand to help with remembering important information and to ask questions that may help to clarify more complicated points can make a huge difference in a patient understanding the diagnosis or instructions.

While the job of a physician often requires that you give unpleasant or complicated information to your patients, with careful communication you can make even the most difficult conversations a little easier for both your patients and yourself.