'I Can't Give You That Test': How to Tell Patients

Shelly Reese


June 26, 2013

In This Article

Does Your Patient Trust You?

Dr. Glen Stream, chairman of the board of the American Academy of Family Physicians, notes that the physician/patient relationship is one fundamentally based on trust. "A patient has to really believe that you have their best interests at heart, whether you're ordering a test or not," he says. Physicians must earn that trust through open and honest communication.

"Explain what you're looking for and what predictive signs you're seeing, and describe the risks vs the benefits of a particular test or procedure." Doing so enables the patient to better understand the situation and actively to participate in the decision-making process.

Besides helping physicians deliver the medical care they feel most beneficial, taking the time to explore and truly understand the patient's perspective can dramatically enhance the patient experience and ultimately reduce the risk for litigation, says Kathleen Bonvicini, Chief Executive Officer of the Institute for Healthcare Communication.

Bonvicini cites a 1994 study that analyzed plaintiff depositions in settled malpractice suits against a large metropolitan medical center.[3] It showed that more than 70% of the patients who sued described problematic relationships with their physicians that included feeling abandoned, feeling their views were devalued, feeling their perspective wasn't understood, and poor communication of information.

"Patients want your time and attention," says Dr. Brody. "Data support that doctors who listen, have good communication skills, and have good relationships with their patients are the ones protected from lawsuits -- not the ones who order more tests. If you try to build a ring of technology around yourself to protect you, it's not going to work."


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