Whether we realize it or not, most of our meaningful interactions with others center on relationships. Work is more enjoyable and usually more productive if you like your colleagues. You are more likely to keep hiring an auto mechanic who has proven himself to be honest and reliable.
Relationships used to be at the heart of health care, but that no longer seems to be the case. Doctors and hospitals often regard medical appointments and diagnoses as a service to be delivered as quickly as possible. Building trust and rapport between doctor and patient is a secondary priority at best. Unfortunately, poor or inadequate communication between doctors and patients can lead to dangerous and costly medical errors.
A recent opinion piece in the New York Times highlights issues that some physicians and patient advocates have been observing for decades. The article sites a study showing that in over 70 percent of cases involving serious adverse health outcomes, communication failure was to blame. In other words, physicians have plenty of medical skill and training, but they often lack bedside manner and good listening skills.
Communication is crucial at every step in the process. A doctor who fails to take a detailed patient history or to ask the patient questions might order expensive tests without ever arriving at a correct diagnosis. After diagnosis, patients might misunderstand what their diagnosis is and how to treat it. In the long run, patients may be less likely to take their medication and generally care for their own health if they have a physician who seems uninterested and uninformed.
Communication skills – especially the ability to listen – are not just a perk. They are essential to good health care. And although many doctors might feel like they don’t have time to give their patients their full attention, consider the alternative. Taking a few minutes to listen during the initial appointment could prevent a serious medical error – thus saving untold sums of time and money in the long run.
Source: The New York Times, “Doctor, Shut Up and Listen,” Nirmal Joshi, Jan. 4, 2015