Mastering patient communication as a primary care physician

In a poll recently conducted by Pew Research Center, a significant majority of patients were pleased with their healthcare providers. However, 15% of those who had seen a provider in the year prior to the survey “felt confused about instructions they got for treatment or at-home care.” Improved communication with the patient during and after the visit is crucial in these situations, when a patient’s healthcare outcomes may depend on their ability to continue their treatment plan after the visit.

How can the independent primary care physician master that critical patient communication piece of providing quality healthcare? The first step is to take the time to focus on engaging the patient. During the visit, listen to the patient’s concerns and address them as fully as possible with a clear, concise response. Allow the patient to ask questions, particularly as they concern a diagnosis, necessary tests or medications, or a proposed healthcare treatment plan.

Provide additional information regarding the diagnosis, tests, or medications, with brochures, flyers, or printouts from professional research sources. Take the time to point out relevant areas of the literature that pertain specifically to that patient. Again, encourage questions and clearly explain the answers, checking to see if the patient truly does understand all of the information provided.

When communicating electronically, avoid the use of acronyms, abbreviations, or vague language that will not be clearly understood by a patient who has not been immersed in the language of the industry. Professionals in all industries tend to communicate using terms that are specific to their field that are not generally understood by others. Avoid the use of emoticons or emojis in electronic communications.

Reassure the patient that all communication, whether face-to-face or online, is safe and secure. This will build trust with the patient that enables the patient and the primary care physician to communicate more effectively.

Communication is a crucial piece of the patient’s healthcare plan. Primary care physicians can master patient communication, by taking a little extra time and focusing a lot more on each patient during and after the visit.