Sue Larsen, president and director of education at Astute Doctor Education, Inc., says four key communication problems increase the likelihood patients will sue their doctors. Here's what they are, and how to avoid them:
Problem 1: Making the patient feel devalued. The patient needs to feel that you care about him, his time, and his unique needs. Before entering the exam room, briefly familiarize yourself with the patient's medical history. When you enter the room, greet the patient by name, have eye contact, and engage in some general conversation to help the patient feel at ease. Finally, don't appear rushed. Avoid the temptation to look at your watch, and don't have a conversation with your hand on the door handle on your way out to see the next patient.
Problem 2: Making the patient feel that you don't understand his perspective. Ask the patient what he thinks is going on with his health. He could hand you some inaccurate Internet research, but remember that he has taken a proactive step to engage, says Larsen. Acknowledge the information, and if you don't agree with it, explain your reasoning to the patient. "Make them an equal partner in the management of their health," says Larsen.
Problem 3: Making the patient feel deserted. Include the patient in the decision-making process, says Larsen. "They want to be an equal partner; they want to know what choices they have available to them." Present all the options to the patient, discuss the pros and cons, and try to guide them to the best course.
Problem 4: Making the patient feel that information was delivered poorly. Remember that patients can only take on a certain amount of new information at a time. You may need to explain the same piece of information three different ways, says Larsen. Also, provide diagrams if you have them, and if not, draw them by hand. "Patients really appreciate the effort that's been put into helping them understand," she says.