Medicine used to be a doctor-knows-best enterprise. The doctor spoke; the patient listened. Fortunately, we moved beyond that antiquated dynamic and embraced the concept of patient experience, in which patients’ physical, emotional and spiritual needs are an integral part of their care.

Realizing patient experience

Impacting the patient experience doesn’t happen by accident. It requires all caregivers to make a conscious effort to see the patient not as a disease, but as a human. It requires a pause before diving into medical jargon and an abyss of closed-ended questions. It requires effective communication skills.

"Relationships with patients offer meaning and resilience to a profession desperately seeking both."

Physicians have been well trained to identify the chief complaint and develop an appropriate game plan. What are the symptoms? What makes it better or worse? But doctors should also ask themselves: What words would build a relationship and trust with this person? How can I stay curious to learn more about what’s important to them?

Seeing results

Research shows that effective patient-clinician communication improves patient outcomes, reduces medical errors and malpractice suits, improves treatment adherence and decreases patients’ emotional stress. Importantly, research also shows that effective communication positively impacts the clinician experience.

So why do hospitals have trouble engaging many physicians in communication skills training? Because many physicians don’t think they need to improve communication skills, and as long as they don’t think they need them, they won’t engage.

Making the priority

The irony is that nearly every physician wants to be connected to his or her patients, yet lack of time and control, the electronic medical record, stress and an endless array of checkboxes snuff out this commitment. Burnout rates are at an all-time high. An app isn’t going to fix it.

Relationships with patients offer meaning and resilience to a profession desperately seeking both. By caring for each other and our patients—and communicating it effectively—we will transform the human experience one relationship at a time.