For physicians, a significant factor leading to optimal outcomes is to engage patients early on as part of the decision-making process. Understanding patients’ needs, along with their values and preferences, is critical to the success of your healthcare team.
However, we at The Institute for Healthcare Excellence have found that many times physicians don’t understand what their patients need or want from them. It takes effective patient communication—leading to an alignment of goals and expectations—to bring about positive outcomes and a stronger bottom line.
Patients need doctors who listen
What patients want most from doctors is to be respected and listened to. Technology and medical procedures may continue to evolve, but certain human needs will never change. Patients evaluate their relationship with a provider by asking: “Am I really being listened to? Am I being respected? Do you truly care about my health? Do you have enough time for me?” To get to “Yes” starts with doctors who listen well and build trust with patients.
The lost art of listening to patients
Physicians seem to have lost the art of listening to patients. On average, we interrupt our patients with an 18 seconds and often change what they really want to tell us. Research has found that up to 30% of the time, we completely miss why the patient is there to see us.1 It’s vital that we rekindle the skill of listening, of recognizing the emotions in the room and responding in a way that builds a trusting relationship with the patient and ultimately improves outcomes.2
In our work with health systems and hospitals to improve their patient satisfaction scores and medical outcomes, we’ve learned that creating an exceptional experience can lead to a culture of safety. As that culture of trust and teamwork grows, patient-adverse events begin to decline.
Physician leaders improve communication
The first step is to identify physicians who are ready to support initiatives that improve communication with patients. After all, the caregivers are the best choice to lead the effort, rather than having it dictated to them. Let’s not leave physicians out of the equation when they can play a major part in creating a high-quality experience for patients.
Of course, there’s never a perfect time to implement best practices for communication in healthcare. It takes patience and a deep commitment to nurturing a culture that’s built on relationship-based, patient-centered communication. It may be nine to 12 months before you see a measurable impact, and up to four years to realize the maximum benefit. Once that’s achieved, however, you can expect a fivefold return on your investment.
Better communication helps prevent physician burnout
One more factor to consider is that poor communication can increase the chance for preventable errors. When a physician is frustrated by inadequate communication with a patient, it can cause burnout—and that correlates to medical errors.
To help bring back the joy of practicing medicine physicians must build a meaningful relationship with patients. That involves learning to listen to patients, establishing a culture of trust and committing to executing a relationship-based communication plan. Often this approach surprises us as it does not take any longer. Meeting those objectives can transform the patient’s experience and lead to measurable, positive outcomes for you and your care team.
- Lipkin M, Putnam S, Lazare A. eds. The Medical Interview.
Clinical Care, Education and Research. NY. Springer-Verlag.1995.p.531.
- The importance of physician listening from the patients’ perspective: Enhancing diagnosis, healing, and the doctor–patient relationship. Justin Jagosha, , , Joseph Donald Boudreaub, Yvonne Steinerta, Mary Ellen MacDonaldc, Lois Ingramd doi:10.1016/j.pec.2011.01.028
William Maples, M.D. serves as PRC's Chief Medical Officer. Before joining PRC, Dr. Maples served as Senior Vice President and Chief Quality Officer at Mission Health in Asheville, North Carolina. Additionally, Dr. Maples serves as Executive Director of The Institute for Healthcare Excellence, where he and his consulting faculty employ a variety of strategies to improve patient experience and impact quality outcomes.