Effective Communication SKills

The Gateway to Patient-Centered Care

With the clean and bloody bandages whipping in the wind, the passers-by recognized the establishment of the barber-surgeon, who could pull a tooth or leach blood from the patient, as well cut hair and a hangnail. The white and red rags gave way to the iconic barber pole still in use today.

The barber-surgeons’ work was, oftentimes, conducted before an audience of family and friends, as well as the curious and the apprentices. The patient was the center of attention and care.


Doctors at the CenterDoctor

That patient focus began to change when French physician René Laennec faced a confounding challenge in 1816. Treating a young woman with labored breathing, he suspected heart disease, but he was reluctant to place his ear on her chest to listen to her heart. He was thinking about this dilemma when he saw schoolchildren playing with long, hollow sticks. When the children held one end of the stick to their ear and scratched the other end, the stick transmitted and amplified the scratch. And the stethoscope was born.

This marvelous invention was the gateway to thousands of instruments and devices that improved the diagnosis and care of patients. But that care shifted from patient-centered to doctor-centered as the physicians, oftentimes, made decisions without the input of the patient or family members.


The Journey Back to Patient-Centered Care

Activating PatientsThe pendulum began swinging back to the patient focus when the Institute of Medicine (IOM) published their seminal report, Crossing the Quality Chasm, in 2001. IOM listed six aims for improving healthcare, one of which was patient-centered care: “Providing care that is respectful of and responsive to individual patient preferences, needs, and values, and ensuring that patient values guide all clinical decisions.”

And so began our 15-year journey to put the patient at the center of care. Critical to patient-centeredness is listening attentively, being present in the moment and communicating effectively with patients, families and healthcare team members.

Over the last decade, a number of research studies have proven the value of good communication skills, which include:

  1. Improving medical outcomes
  2. Decreasing malpractice claims
  3. Enhancing provider satisfaction
  4. Improving patient satisfaction


The Benefits of Effective Communication

Let’s take a look at what the evidence reveals about each of these benefits of good communication skills.

  1. Medical Outcomes

A series of research studies over the past decade has proven that clinicians’ communication skills have a broad range of benefits for the patient including diagnosis, informing patients about interventions, treatment planning, adherence to physicians’ orders and medical outcomes.

  1. Malpractice Claims

Poor communication between the physician and the patient is also strongly associated with malpractice litigation. Moreover, poor communication among healthcare providers or within healthcare teams is a leading cause for medical error, according to the Joint Commission on hospital standards. CRICO, the patient safety and medical professional liability company owned by and serving the Harvard medical community, reports that from 2006 to 2010 more than 40 percent of cases involved communication factors, costing in excess of $260 million

  1. Provider Satisfaction

According to research, caregivers who view their work as person-centered are more satisfied with their jobs than those whose work is not person-centered. At a time when burnout is rampant at healthcare facilities, patient-centered communication skills can stem the tide of defections.

  1. Patient Satisfaction

With the advent of Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems (HCAHPS) surveys mandated for hospitals receiving Medicare/Medicaid monies, patient satisfaction has become one of the most well-documented outcomes of good communication skills. A systematic review of 40 scientific studies, revealed a strong correlation between patient-centeredness and patient satisfaction.

The medical industry, which is renowned for studying, testing and journaling, has produced reams of evidence verifying the value of clinicians’ communication skills and its enormous impact on patients. Supported with evidence-based research, good communication skills are essential in the patient-centered environment.


Barbara Lewis, MBA Barbara Lewis, MBA is the Managing Editor of DocCom, a non-profit on-line communication skills learning system launched in 2005 to help medical students become better communicators. Today, the fastest growing segment of DocCom’s subscribers is residency programs. Translated into three languages, DocCom (www.DocCom.org) has subscribers in eight countries. Barbara is a former journalist and marketing consultant.

Barbara Lewis, MBA has 4 post(s) at EngagingPatients.org

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