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Training and Technology: Tools to Close the Physician-Patient Communications Gap

By Stewart Gandolf, Chief Executive Officer

cans on string technologyUnderstandably, interpersonal and communications skill is one of the vital core competencies for physicians. But communications is also one of the biggest gaps in physician competency, according to the American Hospital Association’s Physician Leadership Forum.

Some of the obvious applications for good communications include working effectively with provider team members, professional colleagues and doctor-patient interaction. And in the realm of patient satisfaction, studies confirm “most complaints by patients and the public about doctors deal with problems of communication not with clinical competency.”

From a physician marketing and business perspective, the down side and the up side of good communications are quite real. Improving doctor-patient communication is not an option, but a necessity, according to Siegfried Meryn, professor of internal medicine.

“In the past decade responsibility for an individual’s health care has shifted. Patients today are health consumers and want to be active participants in medical decision-making. Patients tended to leave doctors who failed to involve them in decisions often within a year.”

On the plus side, Dr. Meryn cites: “Good doctor-patient communication offers patients tangible benefits. Many studies have found significant positive associations between doctors’ communication skills and patients’ satisfaction. Does good communication improve physical health too? Several studies and reviews clearly show a correlation between effective communication and improved health outcomes.”

For these and other reasons, physician training, continuing education and medical school curriculum have embraced the need for communications training for doctors. In addition, a new “dialogue-based” technology has emerged, intended to enhance a patient’s personalized access to healthcare professionals.

And online dialogue contributes to patient satisfaction and patient education, according to a report in BMC Medical Informatics and Decision Making. Patients used a health informatics tool titled The Online Patient Book to enable online exchange of information, questions and answers with their doctors. Patients could take as much time as they needed to compose their questions, while doctors were obliged to respond within 24 hours.

Although a small study (report here), researchers said that patients liked the application, concluding that “The patients stay in control and feel they are competent and so become empowered partners in the dialogue. Utilizing the asynchronous written environment the Internet technologies offer, the patients gain freedom to continue living their life, and “visit” the hospital in times of needed and without waiting time.”

Additional reading on this topic is available in our previous post: Physician-Patient Communications Lesson for Internal Medicine Marketing (and everyone else).

Stewart Gandolf, MBA

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