Traditionally, doctors have been evaluated more for their competence than for their compassion. However, interpersonal skills are important not only for getting an accurate diagnosis and communicating a course of treatment, but for building a trusting relationship with the patient. A better relationship leads to greater patient satisfaction, and ultimately better medical care.
Most professionals can benefit from having strong listening skills, but for a physician the ability to understand what someone in their care is saying can have a major impact on that patient's health. A patient wants to know his doctor is paying attention to what is being said. Moreover, good listening skills allow a doctor to get information that will lead to a successful treatment plan. Physicians need to listen closely when taking a patient's history, and when fielding questions from the patient.
A physician must communicate well so the patient clearly understands his instructions. If the doctor fails to properly communicate the diagnosis, treatment options, and follow-up plan to the patient, the patient might not properly and fully recover. Not only must a doctor communicate with clarity, but also with compassion. Doctors who are rude or condescending will fail to connect with the patient, which could lead to the patient failing to follow up with her treatment plan. The patient might also opt to see another physician.
Doctor-patient communication is not all about talking and listening. Physicians must be sensitive to body language and other forms of nonverbal communication. If a patient says his leg is healed, but winces when the doctor manipulates it, the doctor should pick up on this cue. If a patient says she understands how and when to take her medication, but the doctor senses confusion, the doctor's ability to pick up on that confusion could save the patient from taking the pills in the wrong way or in the wrong order.
A study of diabetic patients conducted at the Thomas Jefferson University Hospital showed that when a patient feels that a doctor is on her side, it can actually aid in that patient's healing. Medical schools teach doctors empathy techniques such as always facing the patient, letting the patient speak uninterrupted, and using empathetic words in conversation, such as acknowledging the patient's pain. A doctor who is comfortable talking about potentially embarrassing symptoms can help a patient be more open about those symptoms.
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