Communication in Medicine

Good communication is vital to healing in Medicine.

Poor communication leads to decisions being made which are not in the best interest of the patient, leading to patients suffering from unnecessary stress and to patients feeling their needs have not been met. The pressure on doctors to work to unrealistic time constraints compounds this.

In reality, good communication does not necessarily take any longer, leads to better clinical reasoning, better addresses the patient issues and improves patients’ understanding and informed choice, and therefore compliance with management. It also develops meaningful interactions and relationships between doctors and their patients, which makes work much less stressful and more enjoyable.

In today’s Medicine, we are asked to view medicine from the perspective of the Medical Home, practising patient centred care and supporting patients to make informed and shared decisions. For this to be effective, doctors need to develop their communication skills to higher levels, developing expertise in addressing the complexities of the issues their patients face.

There has been an assumption in the past that medical students will somehow learn these skills on the job by osmosis. In reality, what we are expecting is a high level of psychological and social understanding accompanying skilled communication. These skills need to be considered to be at least as important as the practical skills we consider to be essential.

Communicating with care

The way we communicate at times of significant stress can have a long-lasting impact on our patients’ well-being, and very poor communication can be permanently damaging.

A wise physician once said that “to care for a patient you first need to care about them”.

Effective communication is deeper than simply the spoken word, demonstrating detached concern or even displaying empathy. Communication is about compassion, recognising the suffering of another and having a desire to work towards alleviating that suffering.

Communication is about meeting a patient, heart to heart, really connecting with them. That is a place where they are able to trust and to be honest about their feelings, about their concerns.

Developing deeper connections with our patients not only better supports them, but sustains us as physicians, making our own lives richer and more meaningful.

We would like to explore the need for effective communication in Medicine and the nature of communication based on love and compassion. After all, the strength of all true relationships lies in our ability to care about and truly communicate with each other.

By Dr Jane Barker and Dr Anne Malatt – Photography by Alan Johnston

Read more

Latest Articles on Communication in Medicine

The importance of having your own doctor – even when you...

As doctors, we have a tendency to diagnose and treat ourselves when we become ill, which is understandable, but this can get us into...

The Nocebo Effect

I read an article (1) recently on the nocebo effect, which is the opposite of the placebo effect. When a person expects a side-effect...
photo of cave by Joshua Sortino for article by Dr Jane Barker on The Power of Communication

The Power of Communication – It may Heal or Harm

In the past weeks many of us watched the real life drama of the cave rescue in Thailand. The International team, who had never...

Compassion, empathy and sympathy – what do they truly mean?

As a profession, medicine is beginning to be aware that we must care for the whole person, if we are to truly practise the...
Baby elephant ears for article on Listening by Dr Jane Barker

Listening with heart

  “Listen to your patient; he is telling you the diagnosis.” William Osler Listening is an art and in clinical practice its value cannot be over emphasised....
Doctor Anne Malatt

Doctors can learn about life from their patients

Doctors aren’t supposed to have favourite patients. We are not supposed to feel anything, really. We are supposed to be objective, dispassionate, and to not...
Dr Jane Barker caring for a patient

Compliance – should we look at it in a different way?

As medical knowledge expands exponentially, it becomes increasingly apparent how little we actually know about the miracle that is the human body. In medical school...
Compassion in Medicine -doctor and patient

Adding Love to Medical Care

Just as "a spoonful of sugar makes the medicine go down" so a teaspoon of love added to medical care makes all the difference...