Honed communication skills key in handling dissatisfied patients

November 7, 2008

Skillful physician-patient communication is paramount to successful prevention and management of dissatisfied LASIK patients, said Jennifer Morse, MD, assistant clinical professor of psychiatry, University of California San Diego.

Skillful physician-patient communication is paramount tosuccessful prevention and management of dissatisfied LASIKpatients, said Jennifer Morse, MD, assistant clinical professorof psychiatry, University of California, San Diego.

"Communication is not just a skill physicians learn in medicalschool," Dr. Morse said. "Just like surgical skills,communication skills need frequent updating and practice so thatthey are maintained and improved."

She provided some tips for optimizing communication and evidencefrom published literature supporting the physician's role.

In speaking with patients, physicians need to be mindful of theirverbal and nonverbal cues, she said. Supporting thisrecommendation, Dr. Morse cited a published study showing arelationship between surgeon tone of voice and malpracticecomplaints.

Effective empathy is another skill that must be consistentlydemonstrated in all physician-patient interactions, whetherdealing with individuals who are satisfied or dissatisfied. Thevalue of empathy is suggested by the results of a Danish study inwhich the level of physician empathy correlated with the abilityof oncology patients to cope with their symptoms.

With the aim of understanding the dissatisfied patient, anapproach based on listening more and talking less is necessary,Dr. Morse said. The verbal contributions of the physician shouldconcentrate on asking appropriate questions that serve twoprimary purposes: helping patients feel comfortable in expressingtheir dissatisfaction and the underlying reasons, and learningwhat the patient considers to be a satisfactory outcome.

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