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Communication in Doctor-Patient Relationships

It is an understood fact that science is based on evidence. When you go to see your doctor, they will consider the history you give regarding the symptoms you are suffering with and make a decision based on what they are presented with.

To enable this process to be accurate, the doctor must give the patient the opportunity to discuss their concerns/symptoms openly. Communication should not be underestimated in this sensitive relationship. A breakdown in doctor-patient communication can inevitably lead to serious consequences for both parties.

As a recent Guardian newspaper article (dated 25 May 2017) highlights  this relationship is built on communication and interpersonal skills. One cannot be used in isolation without the other if the aim is to establish and maintain an effective doctor-patient relationship and consequently an accurate diagnosis of the patient’s condition and management of the same.

Doctor-Patient effective relationships

Patient surveys over the years have consistently demonstrated the lack of adequate communication skills they receive from their doctors. What a patient is looking for when they go to see their doctor is for somebody to listen to what they are going through. In a patient’s mind, a doctor is judged by their bedside manner – how comfortable they make their patient feel.

Establishing an effective relationship works both ways. For the doctor, it leads to a better understanding of the patients’ symptoms, their needs and expectations. For the patient, it means they can fully disclose what they are/have been going through in order for the doctor to then reach a correct prognosis or diagnosis. Above all else, the patient should be made to feel part of the decision-making process. After all it is the patient living through the symptoms and will be undergoing whatever procedure required.

Furthermore, an effective patient-doctor relationship is less likely to result in formal complaints being made against the doctor which can of course escalate to litigation and a referral to the doctor’s regulatory body (General Medical Council). Consequently, this means a healthier professional life for the doctor, as they do not have the added stress of a litigious case against them, regulatory disciplinary and importantly have a sense of self-satisfaction with regards to the work they are doing.

Impact on health care

If the doctor’s focus shifts more on how they communicate with their patients, this could certainly lead to higher quality of health care, fewer recurring patient visits, decreased likelihood of complaints/litigation and most importantly, the correct prognosis.

Although communication and interpersonal skills are not at the forefront of science, its significance should not be underestimated.