doctor patient communication

How important is communication when it comes to healthcare?

Communication is a crucial part of survival in all aspects of life, whether it is expressing your feelings to a loved one, fighting for a right, making business transactions at work and so on and so forth. Humans’ having the ability to communicate is what makes us superior to all other creatures in this world. Unfortunately, in the health sector of many countries, there is a definite lack of communication, both on the patients’ end as well as the specialists. This communication gap needs to be filled due to numerous reasons discussed below.

A lot of the times, the medical practitioner i.e. doctor/specialist is blamed for the claimed communication gap. Research shows that the way a healthcare professional communicates with his patients can make a huge difference to them. With better communication, patients tend to follow their doctor’s medical advice more. Similarly, good communication also leads to the patient avoiding behaviors that are harmful to health when told by a practitioner.

This problem seems to be big enough that many studies have been carried out on it, and the results show that the communication skills between a healthcare practitioner and a patient not only satisfy the patient, but they also educate him/her on the problem at hand which makes it easier to work on the solution i.e. how to prevent the problem. This makes the job of a practitioner much easier as well as keeping the patient in good health.

The Institute for Healthcare Communication has carried out its own research which lists the numerous positive results that can come from effective communication of both parties in the healthcare sector. These include:

1. Accuracy in the diagnostic decisions

This is a crucial step for the treatment of the patient. If the patient is diagnosed properly, the higher the chances become of an effective treatment. What effective communication does is build a comfortable environment for the patient to able to express his problem to the medical practitioner. He’ll be able to better explain their health issue which makes it easier to find a solution.

Of course, it goes without saying, if the medical practitioner does not hear the complete story from their patient, the chances of an accurate diagnosis will fall. This can have serious consequences because if misdiagnosed, treatment may be able to cause more harm than good health-wise, as well as thousands of dollars wasted. Usually, this happens if the healthcare professional does not bother or allow the patient to tell the complete side of their story.

If that isn’t enough already, if a patient does not get to tell his health problem, he will automatically believe that it must not be so important. This is why they will not take much heed when their doctor gives them preventative measures and with doing this, they will cause their health to decline more. A good communication between the two can avoid such problems.

2. Adherence to the recommendations

As mentioned before, not only does a better communication result in an accurate diagnosis, it will make the patient more inclined to adhere to the recommendations of the healthcare professional.

This refers to the medicines and precautionary measures given by the medical practitioners to their patients for a healthy recovery.

Not following the advice of your doctor can lead to very serious consequences. To make it worse, research by Health Care Quality (carried out by the Commonwealth fund) showed that 1 in every four patients does not adhere to the recommendations of their healthcare professional.

The same research showed that in the focus group of this study, 39% of the people did not take their medical practitioner’s advice because they didn’t think the given treatment was right. Moreover, 27% of them did not follow the advice given to them because they felt that they would not be able to afford it. Another 25% simply found the instructions given to them too hard to follow. That only left an almost negligible 9% who actually did follow the advice of their healthcare professional.

The only clear solution to this is an effective communication between patients and doctors. If there is mutual trust, the patients will know that what their doctors recommend is what is best for them. They will know that it is important enough to bear additional expenses through loans or any other means they need to. They can also always contact their doctor if they do not understand the given instructions.

3. An improved team satisfaction

In some cases, more than one medical practitioner is assigned to a patient. In this case, good communication between both practitioners is vital to do a good job. Studies show that this also increases the quality of job satisfaction. It suggests that when healthcare professionals converse with each other about their tasks and responsibilities, it has a good effect on them because they all feel equally important and are motivated to do the job well.

A motivation healthcare professional will automatically perform better on the job. Research even shows that better job satisfaction on the healthcare professional’s part leads to a higher ability to develop effective communication with their patients.

The Institute for Healthcare Communication has listed down a number of things that can lead to improved team satisfaction among medical professionals. These include:

  • Support from all healthcare practitioners working on the case
  • Being respected by team members
  • Have a good understanding of what the job requires, fair reimbursement and work equity
  • Have a platform on which each individual is able to express their views and concerns

As indicated, all these methods can only be implemented if there is a good level of communication between healthcare professionals amongst a team. As mentioned above, this not only leads to better satisfaction on the job, which in turn motivates medical practitioners to improve their performance at work.

4. Ensuring patient safety

The Institute for Healthcare Communication says that man-made errors and computer errors lead to approximately 30% of unfortunate incidents that occur in the healthcare department. Other research shows that poor communication among medical practitioners was responsible for almost 70% of the medical errors that took place in the 10 years from 1995 to 2005.

Patient safety is the topmost priority of a healthcare professional. This can be achieved by an effective level of communication between medical practitioners. Research shows that if a healthcare professional is under pressure or stress, especially because they are not communicating well with their peers, then that can lead to high chances of mistakes during medical procedures.

Since patient safety cannot be compromised by a healthcare professional at any cost, they need to ensure that they take all kinds of measures to ensure that the patient is nursed back to health. It may not be clearly visible to the naked eye, but as it seems, communications play a huge part in doing a better job.

5. Reduced number of malpractice claims

A lot of medical practitioners have been blamed or legally charged for use of malpractice. Huntington and Kuhn carried out a study which yielded surprising results that these claims made by patients could have been easily avoided if there was better communication between the healthcare practitioners and patients.

This issue was then researched further which found out that patients thought of their healthcare professionals as simply ‘uncaring.’ Many times, doctors focus so much on just doing their job in prescribing medicines and carrying out procedures that they may not realise patients require a certain level of emotional support and understanding to co-operate with the treatment plans that they are given.

The Institute for Healthcare Communication shows that patients who have sued their doctor for use of malpractice claimed in about 25% of the cases that medical information was not delivered properly. Another 13% of the plaintiffs claimed that their medical practitioners almost never bothered to listen to them.

The only solution to the aforementioned problems is to establish effective communication between both parties. This can end up saving a lot of time, resources and money.

We’ve already established that effective communication between doctors leads to job satisfaction, but the question is, how does effective communication between a physician and their patient improve patient satisfaction?

All the four methods discussed above clearly show how important communication is in leading to a reformed healthcare sector. These methods also hint at how patient satisfaction can be increased through healthcare. They are listed and explained in detail below.

i. Patients need to be heard

All patients require is not just a dose of medicine and medical procedures. They need attention from their physicians on hearing what their problem is. Medical practitioners should encourage their patients in expressing their health problems as well as expectations because effective communication is the key to accurate diagnosis.

ii. The patients need to be valued

Patients need to be shown that they are well cared for and that their specialists are concerned about them. Not only do healthcare practitioners need to look after their physical functioning of their patient but also their mental needs. This can be done by, for example, longer visits to their patients to improve patient satisfaction with their practitioner as well as the overall healthcare sector.

iii. Patients want constant care

The IHC (Institute for Healthcare Communication) found out that patient satisfaction improved by getting frequent care from a constant physician assigned to their case. This can be because if the same healthcare professional works with a patient from the start till the end, the patient will begin to feel as if they are committed to them, hence trust and better communication will begin to develop.

The most reasonable conclusion that can be drawn from all of these findings is a training program for healthcare professionals in which they undergo workshops that teach them ways of better and effective communication. This concept may cause resistance on the part of doctors because they have extremely busy and hectic schedules, but if implemented properly with a positive response, it can prove to yield outstanding results that can reform the healthcare sector.

Since most research studies have found a direct relationship between good communication and increased levels of patient satisfaction, there is no way out of communication training programs if any change is to be seen. Hence, a solution to this can be introducing communication training while doctors are still in academic stages before they go out into the field. This will cause a lot less resistance, and the timing will be perfect as students will be more prone to learning as opposed to once they become healthcare professionals.
 
 
This article was written by Paul Verbiton, blogger at Verbiton.com and content writer by profession. Leave him a comment below if you liked his article or visit his blog and contact him if you want to hire him for content writing services.
 

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