Why Physicians Should Improve Communication With Their Patients

Why are Americans taking doctors to court so often? According to CBS News, Americans file more than 17,000 medical malpractice lawsuits a year and poor communication is the most common complaint. Many recent studies show that improved communication between the physician and the patient is one way to decrease the likelihood of going to court.

Two Harvard Medical School students performed a study to look at malpractice and how common it is with a large number of physicians, for a number of years. In the study, they found that 75 percent of physicians practicing a low-risk specialty will be sued by the time they are 65 years old. For those practicing high-risk specialties, 99 percent will be sued by age 65; both very high percentages.

The New York Times cited as a study performed in 1994 that looked at physician/patient relationships. This study showed that patients seeing physicians who were sued in the past were significantly more likely to report that their physician rushed them, ignored them or didn’t explain the reasoning for tests. Physicians who were sued most often were complained about by patients twice as often as those who were not.

As a physician, it’s important to communicate with your patient and inform them of what’s going on with their condition or illness. Physicians should speak to patients in layman’s terms because more likely than not they are not going to understand medical jargon that physicians speak on a daily basis.

An increased communication level also creates trust between the physician and the patient. If the patient gets frustrated or upset because of poor communication, the physician should take that into account and apologize. Physician apologies are not easy to come by, and studies show that this simple act lowers the risk of being sued. When a physician recognizes and acknowledges a mistake they made, it allows the patient to see that physicians are real people and they make mistakes as well.

So, what’s the best way physicians can apologize to upset or frustrated patients? Face to face. If poor communication is one of the main reasons physicians are sued by patients, it’s important to improve that communication and the first step is to apologize directly.

Errors are inevitable but when the physician notices and apologizes, it makes the patient feel like a person, rather than just another patient in the building.

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