Communication in General Practice – is there a better way?
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Communication in General Practice – is there a better way?

Increased time constraints and challenges in healthcare means the pressure is on GPs to communicate with their patients more efficiently to optimise health outcomes.

But despite the importance of communication in primary care, there’s a lack of education and recognition of building, nurturing and developing this core soft skill. MedicalDirector’s Chief Clinical Advisor and GP, Dr Charlotte Middleton, discusses.

The consequences of poor communication

Effective and efficient communication is critical in healthcare, and getting it wrong can lead to dire consequences – both for the patient and the practitioner. A recent study revealed poor communication could lead to discontinuity of care, compromise of patient safety, patient dissatisfaction and inefficient use of valuable resources – both in unnecessary investigations and physician work time as well as economic consequences.

Lack of priority in medical education and training

At University, the study of medicine focuses on the ‘hard’ skills of medical practice, and soft skills like communication tend to be taught only in the final years of practical GP training. After that, healthcare professionals are often left to ‘fend for themselves’ with how to communicate with patients.

But by then, the day-to-day stresses of back-to-back patients and increased workload makes building, nurturing and developing communication skills even more of a challenge.

How can we do it better?

Start off strong by finding those doctors during the final years of training that you see do it well. Observe them proactively, what are they doing right and when are they getting positive feedback for what they did?

Take time to seek mentors from the beginning, and seek out advice and tips from these practitioners you see do it well.

Listen and learn

Busy practitioners don’t need to make drastic overhauls in communication, even small, habitual changes can make a big difference.

The best thing any General Practitioner can do is to really listen to the patient, take the patient seriously, and be willing to explain clearly to the patient what is going on. At the same time, be open and honest when you really don’t know. And if the matter is too complex for a six-minute consult, you could ask the patient to please make a longer appointment to see you again. This brings far better health outcomes and improves continuity of care than rushing the patient out the door.

Knowledge is power

You might not have the time to explain the condition, but if you have a few resources on hand to share then it would make all the difference in helping the patient understand their condition better and how to manage it. You can quickly email them or print them – and it only take a few minutes.

What’s also powerful about a factsheet is a patient can then pass that information on to their family, which means their wider support group can also understand the patient’s condition and how to offer the right support. So in effect, that one point of communication from patient’s GP has a wider, more powerful reach that resonates with a broader community network.

A path to greater patient satisfaction

Of course learning and improving on communication skills is easier said than done, especially when faced with only a six-minute consult window. And it can be even more challenging to try to enhance communication skills when working in isolation, without going out and doing courses or workshops.

A simple start is being mindful every day of what your patients want, and understanding what their expectations really are. After all, you might not have the best bedside manner ever, nor even have the time to spend half an hour with them. But if all you have time for is to email your patient a factsheet on their condition, that could, in itself, be incredibly powerful and heighten patient satisfaction.

Want to know more?

There are a number of helpful tips, advice, resources and guides currently available for healthcare professionals interested in boosting communication, patient loyalty and satisfaction:

  • Healthshare Factsheets: Enhance patient understanding and drive better, more personalised clinical outcomes by providing patients with condition and product fact sheets from leading healthcare organisations with Healthshare Fact Sheets, available via the MedicalDirector Sidebar.
  • RACGP Courses and Workshops: Understand complaint handling, particularly communication matters and develop methods to ensure effective patient-doctor communication and minimise potential patient dissatisfaction.
  • RACGP Resources on Communication: An insightful resource outlining the benefits of good communication to both patient satisfaction and personal well-being and better peace of mind for physicians.