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Docs Who Are Good Talkers Have Happier Patients

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Physicians with poor communications skills are more apt than their peers with good communication skills to have patients who complain, according to a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association this week.

In the study, young doctors who scored poorly on a communication skills test taken early in their career were more likely than their peers with higher scores to be reported to medical regulatory authorities during their career.

Dr. Robyn Tamblyn, at McGill University in Montreal, and colleagues collected data on more than 3,400 doctors who took the Medical Council of Canada clinical skills test, which includes an assessment of communication skills, between 1993 and 1996. Data were collected until 2005, after 2 to 12 years of practice.

A total of 696 valid complaints were filed against 17 percent of the physicians. More than 80 percent of the complaints were for "attitude/communication and quality of care problems." The "quality of care" category referred to communication problems in management and inappropriate treatment or follow-up.

The rate of patient complaints was much higher for doctors with poor communication skills relative to those with good communication skills, Tamblyn and colleagues report.

Only the communication component of the three-part clinical skills examination was significantly associated with patient complaints, the investigators report.

Patients described physicians with poor communication scores as "condescending," "offensive" or "judgmental," or they ignored patient responses.

"These are not nuanced communication behaviors," comment Dr. Gregory Makoul and Dr. Raymond H. Curry, at the Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago, in a related editorial.

The study "underscores the importance of addressing professional skills and perspectives early and often during medical education," they note, and is "an important step toward establishing the value of efforts to improve both medical education and patient care."

SOURCE: Journal of the American Medical Association, September 5, 2007


Why is it that some doctors have difficulty communicating with patients in a way that the patient can feel comfort?

Some doctors seem to have great social skills while others make a patient's encounter with them a stressful encounter.

If you have ever dealt with a doctor with whom you could not communicate, how did you handle it?
i had a doctor when i couldn't see my regular doctor and he wouldn't answer my questions. he seemed to think i didn't need to know or that it was irrelevant. i found that attitude patronizing and as if we were back in the days of "just listen to the doctor as he knows best."

i want a doctor who takes me seriously and answers the questions that i have. if i get someone who isn't like that, i actually don't know what to do with that because i perceive this as an attitude i can't get around. but now that i am thinking about it maybe that is something one needs to be assertive about.


If you have ever dealt with a doctor with whom you could not communicate, how did you handle it?

I currently deal with my family physician with whom I have no communication with. How I have dealt with this is to show up for my appointments, request my medications and leave. That is about it. I don't go into any further specifics and he doesn't ask. Even while he is writing out the scripts he doesn't ask how I am doing or what progress I am making, nothing. I just get my script and leave.

The sad part is that I have been seeing him for 26 years and actually the more involved in my own health care that I seem to get the more he seems to pull back. When I was younger and was lost and just let him have control of what to do he was interactive with me. Now that I am older and have more knowledge he seems a bit put back by this. Again, I don't really care just give me my scripts and I am outta there. One thing I will say that he is good at is yearly physicals which are extremely thorough...he never misses anything.

I truly do wish that I could find another GP to see but as we all know the wait for a GP here in Ontario is years and better to have someone albeit not a great communicator than no one.
Im Lucky that my present GP is absolutely brillant, you can chat to him like a friend and he does listen, really listens and he cares and takes interest,, hes the only good GP I have ever had, Ive had five others since childhood and they were all useless men and women,, just a case of give you some tablets and onto the next person.
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