How Well Are Doctors Communicating With Patients Today?
Good communication, doctor to patient and patient to doctor, is an essential part of your diabetes care. When doctors do well in communicating with patients, a number of things about your care will be improved. If your doctor is a good communicator:
- Your problems and concerns will be more directly addressed.
- You will be more satisfied with your diabetes care.
- Your instructions will make more sense and you will have opportunity to ask questions.
- You will achieve more success with behavioral change such as increasing exercise or quitting smoking.
- You will have less anxiety about your diabetes.
Communicating With Patients – 10 Things Your Diabetes Doctor Should Be Doing
Doctors can do many things to make you feel comfortable and improve communication with patients. How many of the following does your doctor use regularly? The more of these skills they demonstrate when interacting with you, the better their communication skills.
1. Your doctor asks you about your main diabetes problems, concerns and then focuses on those issues. Does your doctor:
- Make eye contact with you and speak directly to you throughout the office visit?
- Encourage you to explain your diabetes problems and concerns in detail?
- Talk to you about your perception of your diabetes control and symptoms?
When your doctor asks these things it will help you better communicate your diabetes concerns.
2. In communicating with patients, is your doctor an active listener?
Doctors who are more effective at communicating with patients will use a technique called ‘active listening’ to clarify and better understand your problem. Effective doctors will clarify problems to make sure they understand your concerns and then further explore your diabetes problem as needed. Active listening includes the following components:
- Hearing: When communicating with patients, does your doctor pay close attention to what you are saying?
- Interpretation: Does your doctor confirm what they hear so they know they understand?
- Evaluation: Does your doctor ask questions about what you said?
- Respond: Does you doctor express, either through words or non-verbal cues that what was said matters and that they will address it?
3. Lets you talk.
Do you know how long the average physician in the U.S. allows a patient to speak before interrupting? Less than 1 minute from most surveys. In communicating with patients, a sign that your diabetes doctor is a good communicator is if the let you finish speaking or let get out all the information you want to say before interrupting.
4. Summarizes your main points.
If your diabetes doctor periodically summarizes to make sure they understand what you are saying, chances are your doctor is better than average in communicating with patients. Your doctor may say something like “so for the last 3 weeks you have” … This gives you the opportunity to make sure your diabetes doctor heard what you were saying and to correct any mistakes.
5. In communicating with patients, does your diabetes doctor ask about how your are living with diabetes?
Your diabetes care involves more than just the blood glucose values and does of your medication. If the social and daily living aspects of your diabetes are not addressed, your diabetes will not be under optimal control.
6. Checks for understanding.
Doctors receive years of training and have a wealth of knowledge to give, but doctors who are netter than their peers at communicating with patients will also check for understanding from their patients. For example, your doctor may ask you to repeat back to them the side effects of a medicine are or what steps will happen as part of a treatment plan.
7. Uses non-verbal communication techniques.
To improve communication with patients, non-verbal skills are really important. If your doctor does these well, you may not even notice. More likely, you will get a sense that your doctor is a poor communicator if your doctor does these poorly. For example, when your doctor leans toward you while maintaining direct eye contact, they are using their body language to convey concern about what you are saying.
What do you think the following say about doctor patient communication? Has this ever happened to you? How does it make you feel?
- Does your doctor sit down at your level and talk with you, or do they just ask questions and type into a computer screen?
- Does your doctor allow them-self to be paged and interrupted during your visit?
Non-verbal skills can improve communication with patients or leave a patient feelining like they have not been heard.
8. Seeks your input in developing your diabetes treatment plan.
Have you ever been to see a doctor, have them ask you a bunch of question, and then receive a prescription and the doctor is gone? Doctors who do this will also be surprised if you return to see them and the treatment has not had expected results.
Actively involved patients are not only more satisfied, but they also are more successful. This may be because patients who actively participate in the development of a treatment plan are more likely to follow the treatment plan. While it is very easy for your doctor to tell you to eat better, drink less soda, or quit smoking, it is much more difficult for your doctor to figure out your perspective and adapt your beliefs to a diabetes treatment plan. If your doctor takes this extra step, your doctor is certainly more effective in communicating with patients. If you are thinking about changing doctors, ask other patients question about how their doctor formulates a treatment plan with them.
9. Is your doctor empathetic?
Doctors who express empathy are much more appreciated bu their patients than those who do not. Statements like “It must have been really scary to when your child’s glucose was so low” demonstrate your doctor cares about diabetes affects you. Such statements, even if your doctor has incorrectly understood what happened, show your doctor’s concern of how diabetes is affecting you.
10. Persuades rather than tells you what to do.
The decision to follow your doctor’s advice is yours alone, and you are unlikely to do anything just because your doctor tells you to. Doctors who are better at communicating with patients will present plans for diagnosis and treatment as options. The idea is that while your doctor can recommend, the ultimate decision is up to you.
What do you think? Can you think of any other factors that demonstrate a doctor is a good communicator?
Gordon GH. Defining The Skills Underlying Communication Competence. Seminars In Medical Practice 2002; 21-28.
Maguire P, Pitceathly C. Key Communication Skills And How To Acquire Them. BMJ 2002;325:697–700.