Effective Communication Skills: Essential Tips for Physicians

As a physician, you’ll learn all the necessary technical skills to diagnose and treat patients while you’re in medical school and residency. But to diagnose and treat patients successfully, there’s another critical skill that you’ll need to develop on your own:

How to communicate effectively.

Strong communication skills are crucial. Whether you’re meeting with patients, fellow physicians, or other members of your staff, knowing how to communicate properly is a must.

Here are seven tips for physicians looking to improve and develop more effective communication skills.

Improve Active Listening Skills

There’s more to good communication than knowing how to properly write or speak. Communication is a two-way street, and it requires that you be a good listener.

Developing active listening skills includes learning how to pay attention, which requires you to be present in the moment. With strong active listening you can better understand what is being said, rather than thinking about how you’re going to respond. 

Checkout this article from the Harvard Business Review to learn tips on how to become a better listener.

Identify Patient Limitations Without Showing Bias

Every patient is different, and depending on their culture and education level they may or may not have great health literacy. It’s important to get to know each patient and understand their specific perspective of healthcare and how that relates to their own health concerns.

It’s also important not to demonstrate any bias. Instead, review their medical history, ask about their concerns, and try to determine their motivations. Many patients have limited knowledge of healthcare, and you can create a better outcome by taking the time to learn what they know and educating them on what they need to know. 

Show Empathy

It’s imperative that your patients trust you, and one way to establish trust is to display empathy.

Let your patients know that you understand their concerns, that you take their symptoms seriously, and that you’ll do what it takes to improve their condition. Patients are more likely to trust you if they think you have empathy for them.

No matter how minute or how significant the patient’s medical condition may be, displaying empathy helps to develop a more therapeutic relationship, which will only benefit them in the long run.

Be Attentive

Like showing empathy, being attentive is a vital element of good communication.

Many illnesses have similar symptoms. Being attentive and taking in all of the information a patient provides will make it easier to diagnose the patient properly and establish the right treatment plan. It’s equally as important to be attentive when speaking with other colleagues that play a role in the treatment team.

Speak in Easy to Understand Language

Some patients may have a high level of medical knowledge, some do not. It’s always best to speak in clear, concise language without using a lot of medical jargon or technical terms.

Be conversational with patients and exchange back-and-forth dialogue to ensure that they understand what it is you’re saying. When it’s necessary to use clinical terms, ask follow-up questions to test your patient’s comprehension of the conversation.

Ask Open-Ended Questions

You can elicit more detailed responses from patients by asking open-ended questions. While yes/no questions may be necessary to some degree, it’s important that you get patients to talk about their issues in more detail.

Keep in mind that some people may not feel comfortable speaking about specific issues, such as drug use, alcohol use, or other things they may deem embarrassing.

However, if you’ve shown empathy, been attentive, listened closely, and spoken clearly, you can get more extensive and honest answers through open-ended questions. Ultimately, this will help you determine the proper course of action, whether that be prescribing medication, making therapeutic recommendations, or suggesting further testing.  

Improve Writing Skills

Writing is an essential part of communication, and good writing skills can improve patient outcomes and enhance your career in multiple ways.

Strong writers tend to pay more attention to detail, which can help you better observe your patients, document patient interactions more thoroughly, and communicate your thoughts and concerns to other physicians more effectively.

With strong writing skills it can also be easier to land a new job. Applying for a new job opportunity requires you to write a cover letter. If it’s not well written, you may never even get an interview.

Checkout this article from Physicians Thrive to learn more about how to write a stand-out physician cover letter.

In Conclusion

Clear communication leads to better patient outcomes and can earn you a reputation for having a good bedside manner.

From listening to patients during initial consultations to directing fellow nurses and physicians in surgical settings, developing better communication skills is key. Take the steps to develop these skills early on and you can go farther than you ever imagined in your career. 

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