Often, patient visits mean an eternal wait in the waiting room and then several precious minutes with doctors rushing in and out. Patients also tend to be more passive and take in everything the doctors say with the expectation that the doctors know everything. However, in reality, an effective doctor-patient conversation can minimise avoidable diagnostic mistakes that sometimes lead to malpractice suits.

Hence, here are some essential tips that doctors should bear in mind to make an efficient and communicative patient’s visit.

1. Using common words and terms

It is common that doctors use the terminology that most patients do not understand during a patient’s visit. For instance, professional terms like “simple iliac ileal conduit” or “urostomy” can be explained in a simpler way with common terms to ensure patients understand what the medical condition means and the symptoms they might face.

Other than that, presenting simpler information helps patients understand medical information more easily without showing a massive amount of data. Patients are also encouraged to ask when they do not understand the medical jargons and summarise what they have heard in order to avoid misunderstanding.

2. Providing written materials or visual aids

In addition, studies show that 80% of patients do not remember the important medical information doctors mentioned during the quick doctor’s visit. To ease the communication, doctors could provide written materials, visual aids or even electronic medical records for patients to bring home. This might be more productive than spending a few minutes in the doctors’ offices and not absorbing the information.

There are also doctors who engage patients on the digital platform such as “vlogging”. Despite this, Fred Hassan, chairman of Bausch & Lomb, also mentioned the importance of communication skills, particularly empathy, to connect with their patients in depth.

3. Informing about side effects and alternative treatment options

“We have seen too many patients regret decision that they made without fully understanding their options, or the possible outcome. We encourage our patients, and our colleagues, to be partners in what are often life-changing decisions about health care,” said Sekeres and Gilligan.

Thus, it is important for doctors to provide enough information on the side effects and alternative treatment options. To help patients make decision more effectively, doctors are advised to explain the advantages and disadvantages of different treatment options so that patients know what they are going for and the implications involved.

Oftri, author of a new book “What Patients Say, What Doctors Hear”, said doctors would not discuss a long list of side effects of most medications. Therefore it is also crucial that patients ask about the important side effects that might be relevant to them.

4. Not making assumptions

Pamela Barnes, the president and CEO of EngenderHealth, said that most of the time, doctors are being selective on what they say to the patients, for example what counsel to provide and what kind of follow-up care is needed. She remarked that these might be due to the influence of assumptions and stereotypes.

If the assumptions are wrong, it can limit a patient’s choices and compromise his or her health. Barnes added that healthcare professionals should establish a connection where a patient is well informed of all medical options, respond to what a patient wants and help the patient achieve the desired outcomes.

5. Avoid quick fixes but listen more

Besides, the emergence of electronic health records in the office has reduced the time of doctors looking at a patient. The doctors are also more inclined for a “quick fix”, which usually means ordering a test or writing a prescription. The lack of communication and further investigation may at times cause wrong diagnosis.

Thus, Peter Pronovost, a practising anaesthesiologist, critical-care physician and a professor at Johns Hopkins Medicine, advised doctors to listen more and talk less. He suggested doctors to ask open-ended questions to encourage patients describe their feelings so that doctors make the treatment decisions according to the patients’ needs.

On the other hand, Helen Darling, president and CEO of the National Business Group on Health, commented that doctor visits should be more patient-centred. By sparing more time and care for the patients, they are more likely to follow the treatment plans and feel comfortable with making doctor visits. MIMS

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