Communication between doctors and patients is essential in building a good doctor-patient relationship, which is critical in the practice of medicine.

Effective communication allows physicians to gather information from the patients, to help with an accurate diagnosis, and effectively counsel and instruct patients, and establish a caring relationship between them. It ultimately leads to the best treatment outcomes and patient satisfaction, necessary for efficient healthcare delivery.

Without excellent communication and relationship between the doctor and the patient, patients may be dissatisfied with their care, and be reluctant to share pertinent medical information and be non-compliant in following doctor’s orders and treatment plans.

To improve communication skills, doctors may keep in mind some of the following advice:

1. Use simple and clear language when talking to patients. Avoid jargon and use terms that patients can easily understand.

2. Ask patients what they already know, and what they still want to know about their medical condition and assess whether the patient can comprehend additional information.

3. Give patients some time to understand this information and allow them to ask questions. Provide information which will help in reducing patient’s stress and anxiety over his/her condition, as well as in the patient’s decision-making.

4. Listen and empathise. Allow the patient to voice out their concerns regarding their condition. Let the patient know that the doctor understands how the patient is feeling. A good exchange of information facilitates discussion and shared decision-making, which results in a more personalized treatment plan.

5. Be mindful of body language. Maintain eye contact with patients, as looking at some other things, such as a computer screen or doctors’ notes may give a negative message to the patient.

6. Similarly, patient’s body languages and facial expressions may suggest feelings of fear, anxiety or worry, which should be addressed by the physician. The doctor’s response to these feelings may affect treatment outcomes and patient satisfaction.

7. Establish rapport with the patient by recognising and acknowledging feelings of the patient, which doctors can respond to by offering reassurance.

In Singapore, third-year medical students of the National University of Singapore Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine conduct public health talks as part of their training curriculum.

This activity allows the students to talk to and connect with patients using simple language. One student said that the training programme lets them interact with patients on the ground level and understand patients’ concerns. MIMS