Article Date: 12/1/2012


Communication as Good Medicine

Can strong people skills impact the health of your patients?


Jim Thomas

In this, Optometric Management’s annual retina issue, we invest in a fair amount of space discussing communication with patients and other healthcare professionals. The value of good communications becomes obvious when we experience the consequences of miscommunications: I once asked my son Paul to bring his “jacket” on a walk. Instead, he brought Jack, his brother.

While miscommunications often lead to more serious consequences, good communications can often empower patients and improve clinical outcomes. Although anecdotal, many clinicians cite good doctor-patient communication as one of the reasons patients are compliant with their medications.

Getting support from research

Anecdotes aside, research has corroborated the impact of communications on patients. For example, a 2006 study completed in Austria among heart surgery patients concludes that healthcare professionals who provided communication aimed at empowering patients “can indeed have an effect on clinical outcome.” In this study, the outcomes included a shorter hospital stay, a reduced incidence of tachyarrhythmia and improved patient ratings for the quality of care administered by doctors and nurses.

A literature overview published last month in Perspectives on Medical Education (published by Springer, our parent company) concludes that “patients report less symptoms and health anxiety when symptoms are properly explained.”

From the “why” to the “how”

It’s probably not too much of a stretch for any of us to accept that good communications can ease patient anxiety, raise levels of satisfaction and even improve outcomes. What then becomes important is the question, exactly how do you provide good communications?

This issue of OM contains a number of communications tips, as well as scripted communications and sample letters. When evaluating these communications, do not underestimate the role of your staff. They deliver your messages to patients and patient messages to you. These frequent interactions can directly impact the health of your patients and, ultimately, your practice.

A final note

My editors reminded me there is one final bit of communication to deliver before I sign off in 2012: On behalf of the staff of Optometric Management, let me extend to you our best wishes for a happy and healthy holiday season. OM

Optometric Management, Volume: 47 , Issue: December 2012, page(s): 4