Has Communication Left the Building or Does It Just Look Different?

Christina M. Sorenson, OD


October 31, 2013

Have you held a conversation lately that did not involve some sort of electronic device? Maintaining eye contact has been supplanted with the surreptitious -- or worse yet, nonapologetic -- overt glances to the screen of our tablet. This trend can be particularly troubling when it creeps into our patient interactions. How do you build rapport when you are swiping your thumb over the screen and half-listening to the patient?

I suppose that as a profession changes, the generations change and the technology intertwines itself into our being (cyborg is becoming a reality); there are bound to be changes in our interactions. But the constant use of technology -- that is, our faces in the screen of whatever gadget interfaces with the database that we need to access -- becomes too much. It is challenging for our patients to know whether we are listening, working, or tweeting when we are speaking with them. How do our patients know we are attending to their needs these days?

Professional behavior is still paramount in solid patient care. Professionalism as we learn it in our doctorate program is a series of attributes -- one of the most powerful being effective patient communication. Let's face it: The case history is the most common procedure that any clinician performs. Regardless of whether we believe that good communicators are born or created, multiple professional journals have shown that communication skills must be practiced and maintained.

To obtain the best outcomes, several components should be included in our case history interview and in our final disposition and plan. Our ultimate goal is to collect information from the patient. But to effectively obtain the nuggets needed to provide excellent care, we must first develop rapport with our patients. How we begin our discussions matters. We must show that we understand the patient's perspective and also develop empathy. We must educate our patients and reach an agreement on management. A good communicator will provide a clear course of treatment with closure to the visit.

Clinical outcomes are enhanced with strong provider-patient communication. The better your patient understands your disposition and plan, the more you will see their anxiety abate, their compliance increase, their outcomes improve, and their satisfaction with care grow.

Professional attributes are layered over body language, voice tone, and responsiveness to our patients' needs. What matters is that patients know that you care about them, understand their goals, and work in collaboration with them. How you communicate these messages ultimately is between you and your patient. So how is that working for you?


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