Doctor Patient Communication

How to Effectively Communicate with Your Patients

Anastasia IliouCommunication

Published 11/1/19 by Anastasia Iliou

In the short amount of time that you’re able to spend with your patients, you want to be able to effectively communicate as much important information as possible. 

Patients that go home feeling more confused or in the dark than when they came in are not going to become lifelong patients. So with the very little time you have, how do you build solid relationships between yourself and your patients?

Doctor-Patient Communication Skills

Practicing good communication skills is essential in the medical profession. It’s a people business.

In recent studies, an increased number of lawsuits against doctors or their practices have suggested that the root cause is poor communication between doctors and patients. 

Before starting any conversation with a patient, you must remember to have patience and be willing to explain everything in a language that is understandable to a patient or their family/caregivers. Involve your patients in the decision-making process for treatment plans and spare no details.

Doctor Body Language Matters

Your patients can tell if you are in a hurry or distracted. Providing quality care requires more than just writing a prescription, it’s about listening to your patients and addressing all concerns with proper respect. Here are six ways to improve doctor-patient communication:

Maintain Eye Contact As Your Patient Speaks

Maintaining eye contact while speaking with your patients (whether you’re doing the talking or listening) conveys a sense of compassion and trust.

You probably want to take notes on your computer while your patient is talking about their condition, but that can, unfortunately, make you appear distracted. Instead, practice really listening while looking straight into your patients’ eyes, then pause to type in what they were telling you. If you have to, politely ask the patient to please hang on for a second while you dictate what they’re telling you. 

Practice Active Listening with Your Patients

Actively listening to your patients solidifies the relationship you are trying to maintain and creates new patient relationships to help grow your business. 

Interrupting or dominating the conversation causes a decrease in how open your patients are with you. Allow your patients to speak freely, and wait until you are sure that they are done with what they wanted to say before you offer your input.  You may find that you’ll actually learn a lot more about their condition this way.

Asking open-ended questions instead of “yes” or “no” questions will allow your patients to reflect on their symptoms, concerns, or fears. Use body language like nodding your head and leaning in to show that you are hearing everything they’re saying. Use phrases like “yes, I’m sorry to hear that,” to acknowledge their concerns. Then, repeat back what the patient has expressed to you to convey that you were listening and to make sure you are on the same page.

For example, let’s say a patient tells you, “my shoulder has been aching, and I haven’t been able to help carry things around the house. When I do, I get a sharp pain down my back.” You may want to respond with, “I’m sorry that your back and your shoulder have been bothering you, let me take a look and hopefully we’ll have you back to helping around the house in no time!”

You’re basically repeating the patient, but doing so in a way that proves you were listening and you care about their wellbeing. 

Pay Attention to Non-Verbal Cues From The Patient

If you’re explaining a diagnosis or new prescription and the patient looks away from you or starts shuffling nervously, that’s a clue that they are uncomfortable with what you’re telling them. 

Instead of brushing past this behavior, take a pause and ask how they feel about their diagnosis or prescription. Ask if they have any questions or if they’d like to talk about alternatives. Some patients may not feel comfortable voicing their concerns until you’ve invited them to do so. 

Show Empathy Towards Your Patients

Being empathic with your patients goes a long way in alleviating their concerns or fears. Handing out their diagnosis and then dismissing them leaves them feeling even more uncertain and fearful than before they came into the office. Talk to your patients about how they would like to handle their care plan. Take the time to explain every treatment and recommendation possible in a language they can understand (don’t use jargon).  

doctor communication
Happy doctor using a clipboard

Follow Up with Your Patients

One of the best ways you can show your patients that you care is by following up. Either set aside a few hours for yourself or designate a staff member to make follow-up calls after your patients have begun their treatments.

Calling Your Patients

Phone calls add a personal touch that you just can’t get through emails and direct mail. Hearing a live person answer the phone can be refreshing and can make patients feel like their doctor’s office is really trying to communicate well. 

Call your patients to confirm appointments, check in, and schedule annual wellness visits. 

Email Marketing for Doctors

Your patients probably don’t have your office number saved in their phone, and more and more people are avoiding answering the phone when they don’t know who’s calling. 

Even if they DO know who’s calling, some people just don’t want to talk to your receptionist. They’d prefer that you leave a message. Emails may be the better way to reach these people. 

Plus, emails are often easier to track in-house than phone calls. Some email marketing services like MailChimp offer free accounts to start with (you may need to upgrade if you have too many patients or too many emails to send). Those services can tell you who has opened your emails, who has clicked on the links in your emails, etc. and can even help you figure out when the best time for you to send your emails is so you can get the best response rate. 

Direct Mail for Doctor’s Offices

Phone calls often go unanswered, and email sometimes are deleted before they’re even read, but direct mail is going to sit in your mailbox until you clear it out!

Direct mail is still a viable way to get important information to your patients, especially the ones who are not quite technologically savvy yet (like your more senior patients). 

Putting together a bright and shiny postcard or flyer to send out can be a great way to grab your patients’ attention and pull them in for their annual wellness visit (it’s also a great way to attract new patients)! 

How Can Help You and Your Practice

All those emails and phone calls can sound pretty overwhelming, right? The good news is that we offer a full communication center for doctors like you who just don’t have time for these sorts of things. We can call your patients for just about anything, whether you need to tell them that you’re going to close early on Fridays or need to get people in for their annual wellness visits, we can do it all.

We customize our services for each doctor’s office that we work with. To get started, click here to get in touch with one of our implementation managers or give us a call at 1-844-551-1755.