Communication is key to patient-doctor ties

Take the time to talk to your patients

When a managed care plan did a patient satisfaction study of its members, it found that only one physician in its database of 5,000 had never had a complaint lodged against him, recalls Tom Aug of Development Partners in Cincinnati.

"An interview with the physician revealed that his whole philosophy is to make the patient feel that they are the most important thing happening in his life," says Aug. Development Partners is a firm specializing in improving patient satisfaction for physician group practices.

The physician talks on the patient’s level and always discusses one or two things that are unrelated to the visit.

"This isn’t rocket science. It’s making people feel like they are the center of attention," Aug says.

Do your patients actually understand you?

And, here’s the other side of the story:

The Picker Institute’s comparative database of patient satisfaction questions about physicians reveals that 27% of medical patients feel that they did not get an answer they could understand from their doctor, according to Susan MacRae, RN, research and development associate at the Boston-based health care quality assessment and improvement firm.

Among the Picker Institute’s other findings:

• When asked if the doctor discussed the patient’s fears or anxieties about the treatment, another 27% answered no.

• A whopping 20% reported that they did not have trust and confidence in their doctors.

• Among surgical patients, 18% reported that they didn’t get an answer they could understand.

"A lot of this has to do with communication, and it can be solved with common sense and courtesy. There are simple things the doctor can do, like sitting down to be at eye level with the patient and asking open-ended questions," MacRae says.

Patients report that in presurgical meetings with their physicians, the physicians are so preoccupied with providing risk and side effect information that they fail to ask what the patients’ concerns are, MacRae says.

"For instance, when women have breast surgery, there are a whole host of topics that are part of the common informed consent process. But when you ask women what their priorities are, they’re interested in knowing whether they will be able to wear seat belts or when they will be able to lift their child," she adds.