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3 simple but effective ways to master patient communication

3 simple but effective ways to master patient communication


We can discharge your father tonight. Make sure you don’t burden him with tense situations and he shall recover soon.

This is a sentence a doctor must have said to the family members of their patients tens of hundreds of times. But, most of those family members are put in such a situation for the first time. Although they hope that they can handle what is required of them, there’s always a dark shadow of doubts and fear hovering over their heads.

What are the topics I should or should not discuss with my father? Am I putting too much pressure on him by telling him about this or would he rather appreciate knowing about it than being kept in the dark?

The fear of the unknown and the anxiety of what could go wrong degrades the decision making ability of not only the patient but also the family members of the patient. That’s where a doctor with effective communication skills can soothe the fears in the minds of their patients.

How do you effectively communicate with patients?

Effective doctor patient communication is an integral part of building a meaningful doctor patient relationship which is at the heart of medical treatment. Much of the patient dissatisfaction and complaints can be boiled down to the gap in communication between them and their doctor. However, many doctors tend to overestimate their communication skills. We have compiled a list of 3 simple but effective ways that can help you master patient communication.

1. Make it easy to understand

You might like to get straight to the point and explain the nitty-gritty of the issues your patients are dealing with. Counter-questioning is hard when someone is unable to understand the facts in a discussion. The same will happen to your patients and their family members if they find your explanations inadequate. But how do you address this problem head-on and get better at doctor-patient communication?

It is always helpful to start with an open question. Patients often talk about what's on their minds, and once that's taken care of, they can relax and be receptive to other topics that may come up during the session.

Throughout the discussion, keep your sentences and questions short, stick to one topic at a time, and try to explain complex concepts in plain English. It will help you form an understanding with them which might be helpful in future sessions.

2. Monitor your body language

Good communication is an essential skill in healthcare, the lack of which can lead to misunderstanding and anxiety among your patients. Assessing your body language can help you get in the same zone of thinking as your patients. Try to maintain steady eye contact during the entire conversation and always face them while speaking. To get better at it, you can watch some videos of yourself in consultation (if appropriate and with the patient's permission) and ask yourself, "What would it be like to be this doctor's patient?" It will also help you acknowledge and reflect on your biases, and you can take measures to minimize them.


Make it a practice to speak clearly and slowly, a little louder than usual but no yelling and pronounce every difficult word distinctly. Collaboration is paramount, and your patients are far more likely to respond positively to recommendations and questions if you treat them as partners.

3. Start sharing your notes with your patients

Note-taking enables the recall and synthesis of new information. Sharing your notes will not only force you to raise your game but also help your patients share your conclusions and remarks with their friends and family members who were not present during the time of consultation. It would be extremely helpful if you can also develop a habit of sharing copies of all the medical letters with your patients after a session. Going one step further, you may experiment with sending videos and audio of the consultation as well. The easier your notes are to consume and understand, the better your relationship will be with your patients.

Whenever required, provide simple written instructions, and use graphics wherever possible. Patients are less likely to remember everything you tell them, and an easy-to-follow list will help ensure that they follow their treatment plan.

What are some other effective communication techniques to use when dealing with difficult patients?

Dealing with a difficult patient is a challenge in itself. Physicians perceive up to an estimated 15% of patient encounters as challenging or tricky, and it is tempting to shift the blame. There could be a myriad of factors affecting the behavior of your patients. You might lose calm and lash out, but following a mental model can guide you through the chaos.


R- Rapport — Connect on a social level with your patients and see their point of view.

E- Empathy — Put in an effort to understand and verbally acknowledge their feelings.

S- Support — Offer support and reassure them that you are and will be available to help.   

P- Partnership — Emphasise that you are working together for the betterment of their health.

E- Explanation — Try to be on the same page by offering continuous explanations and resolving their fears.  

C- Competence — Be wary of your biases and limitations.

T- Trust — Seek to establish their trust.

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