Why do some doctors excel in their studies but fail in practice?

Aurora’s Account Executive Kirsty Somerscales found out that the answer lies in poor communication

There is a growing amount of evidence which shows how patient outcomes can be affected by the way information is presented by healthcare professionals (HCPs).1 This raises the question – what words and phrases used by HCPs are acceptable during consultations?

Whilst there is no one correct answer, The BMJ has been investigating how language and terminology should be evolved to benefit patients who are engaging in discussions with their doctors about their health and treatment options.

During a recent Tweet Chat, involving approximately 20 participants who offered over 40 responses, it was agreed that there is a need for HCPs to communicate information at an appropriate level to the patient in front of them, and that it is important to check with the patient that they understand what is being said.

There were a number of suggestions put forward such as asking patients to ‘teach back’ what they have been told, or provide easy-to-digest patient materials to supplement their conversations and promote the use of patient decision aids to frame discussions.

But is shifting the language used enough to improve patient-HCP interactions? Or should this be a distinct part of a wider focus, to shift the traditional patient-doctor relationships toward true partnerships?

In a separate Twitter series by Stanford Medicine X, a central theme emerged that HCPs need experience and a deeper understanding of how to interact with patients. Cyrene Gawuga, Brown University, argued that “You can be excellent at all of the basic science. But if you can’t interact with a patient, you are a failed doctor”.

Several participants highlighted that a core focus of medical training should be to regularly engage with patients in a clinical environment. Which brings into question – how much training should be provided to HCPs on communications skills?

During the MedX debates, there were many professionals advocating for shared decision-making. To build strong partnerships between HCPs and patients, it is fundamental that patients are asked what outcomes are most important to them.

Allie Schmiesing, University of Southern California, shared her belief that to become partners, HCPs should invest in gaining a good understanding of a patient’s social and cultural background and Stanford medical student, Galym Imanbayev, said it is their obligation to empower patients who want to take an active role in their care.

For greater communication and more collaborative relationships, patients need to be viewed as partners, as recognised by Don Berwick, The King’s Fund, “The moats we dig between patients and clinicians can drain spirit from both”.

Aurora has years of experience working closely with patients and healthcare professionals as part of our Deeper Insights approach. You can learn more about our patient involvement and medical education services at the links provided.

  1. Watson, P and McKinstry B (2009). A systematic review of interventions to improve recall of medical advice in healthcare consultations. J R Soc Med. 102: 235–243.

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