Here’s what doctors need to know – from your perspective, as a patient. Imagine what your healthcare would be like if all doctors read this article.
Physician-patient communication is an integral part of clinical practice. Communication – both verbal and non-verbal (body language) produces therapeutic effect for patients and lowers patient stress levels. There is then improved adherence to treatments and fewer medical malpractice lawsuits. Doctor, your communication skills could be putting yourself at risk for a lawsuit. Dissatisfied patients could be leaving your practice and telling others not to seek your help. Let’s look at some of the common issues from the patient’s perspective.
1. Treat me as a valued patient. Greet me when I enter your office. Don’t have your staff convey the impression that I am interrupting their more important social conversations. Promptly return my calls or have your support staff give me an approximate time that you will return my call. Be aware that your body language and tone of your voice convey a message. Do not stand at a doorway to communicate with me, either in your office or in the hospital. Enter the room and either offer a handshake or sit at eyelevel with me. I will know you care. Demonstrate empathy and avoid minimizing my feelings.
2. Listen to what I have to say. Encourage me to define my 3 top concerns when I come back, to bring a list of questions and medications. Don’t interrupt me. Gather enough data to reach an accurate diagnosis. Listen to what other physicians have to say about my care.
Here is a case about communication: The plaintiff, age twenty-nine, suffered a blood clot n her leg and was told by her family physician to begin taking aspirin. She was also advised by her family physician to take a birth control medication which did not contain estrogen. She went to Dr. Rabin, an obstetrician/gynecologist, and claimed that she told Dr. Rabin of the no-estrogen advice. The plaintiff had been taking Ortho-Cyclen at the time of the blood clot in the leg. Dr. Rabin prescribed and inserted Nuva Ring, which does contain estrogen. A few months later the plaintiff was hospitalized with severe headaches. She was discovered to have blood clots in her brain and had suffered a stroke. The plaintiff claimed that Dr. Rabin was negligent in prescribing the Nuva Ring. The plaintiff’s stroke affected her speech and executive functions. The defendant claimed that the cause of the first clot was an injury and maintained that the second clot and stroke were not caused by the Nuva Ring. According to Georgia Trial Reporter a $523,000 verdict was returned. Steverson v. Rabin, Clayton County (GA) State Court, Case No. 2008 CV 05899.
Patricia Iyer MSN RN LNCC teaches nationally to nurses, physicians, attorneys and paralegals about how to reduce liability. She is president of Avoid Medical Errors, and runs her business in Flemington, NJ.
Barbara Levin BSN, RN, ONC, LNCC is the Clinical Scholar of Orthopaedics Trauma at Massachusetts General Hospital. While providing direct patient care, she educates patients and their families about a variety of health issues. Nationally, she teaches nurses, physicians, occupational therapists and physical therapists about documentation in clinical practice.