Communication is an essential skill. If we want to relate information efficiently and effectively, we need to practice and implement communication techniques that best support our specific purpose. Unfortunately, the drive to get more done in less time often places undue strainoncommunicationwhich can have far reaching consequences. This is especially true in healthcare where poor communication can be a matter of life and death.
However, a new initiative undertaken by the NHS intends to improve the quality of physician communication in hopes that it will improve patient outcomes and reverse the national trend towards unhealthy lifestyles.
The National Health Crisis
According to Cancer Research UK, a healthcare charity that funds scientists, doctors and nurses in the fight against cancer, there has been a 45% increase in incidents of cancer related to obesity in the past two decades. The obesity epidemic has also increased incidence of diabetes, which costs the NHS approximately £10 billionannually, and is associated with other health concerns such as increased alcohol and mental health related admissions that place a tremendous burden on the healthcare system.
The Royal College of GPs found that 47 million GP appointments in 2013 involved a wait of at least one week. That number increased from 40 million in 2012, highlighting a 17% year over year increase in extended wait times. Senior doctors believe this trend will only worsen as the population ages and the prevalence of lifestyle disease increases.
What these figures suggest is that GPs are under increased pressure to see more patients in shorter amounts of time in order to accommodate an increased demand for their services. Unfortunately, effective communication is often the first thing sacrificed when demands on time increase and the consequence can be of great detriment to patient satisfaction and outcomes.
NHS Funded Communication Training
To improve physician communication with patients and simultaneously reduce adverse patient outcomes, the NHS is funding courses in compassion and communication. The national plan will send more than 2,000 health care professionals on two-day training courses that will emphasize the importance of handling difficult conversations with care.
The American Association of Orthopedic Surgeons (AAOS) believes that patient-focused communication encourages health care providers to:
- Show empathy and respect
- Listen attentively
- Elicit patient’s concerns and calm fears
- Answer questions honestly
- Inform and educate patients about treatment options
- Involve patients in medical care decisions
- Demonstrate sensitivity to patients’ cultural and ethnic diversity
A representative form Patient Claim Line, a UK firm of medical solicitors, supports the NHS plan and emphasized its importance by stating that, “poor communication between patients and physicians can lead to a dissatisfied patient to believe that care was poor even if the decisions taken were appropriate.”
Dr. Penny Newman, a former GP and head of the NHS scheme, believes that, “The way we talk to patients is fundamentally important. If we don’t get it right we can make mistakes and we can miss an opportunity to change patients’ behavior.” She believes the NHS training program will provide GPs with skills necessary to connect patients with the importance of their health by harnessing internal motivation to improve health behaviors and reduce subsequent admissions.