Speaker: Improve communication with patients to achieve better outcomes

ORLANDO, Fla. — Creating a connection with patients can be achieved with a few simple steps, and can improve patient outcomes and practice efficiency in the long run, according to a speaker at the Pedorthic Footcare Association and American Podiatric Medical Association Combined Meeting.

Jeffrey D. Lehrman, DPM, a podiatrist at Crozer-Keystone Health System, said patient communication and interpersonal skills are essential considerations for any health care practitioner aiming to provide patient-centered care. The first step is simple: Allow the patient to talk.

Jeffrey Lehrman

“When patients come to us they are more informed about their problem than they ever have been in the past,” Lehrman said.

Because about 70% of patients will search on Google about their problem before making an appointment, they often have questions and concerns.

“There is one thing that brought them in, but there are three other things they have been wanting to ask for 10 years,” Lehrman said.

The key, he said, is to listen to the patient; do not interrupt; and then address what they said. Active listening techniques should be employed, including regular eye contact, encouraging facial expressions, attentive posture and nodding. Lehrman also recommended sitting down with the patient, pointing to a study that showed when a physician sits down while visiting a patient, the patients perceives the visit as having lasted longer. Lehrman emphasized the importance of eye contact, which he said “lets [the patient] know that they are the most important thing to you at that moment.”

When a physician or practitioner shares information with a patient, he or she should make sure the patient understands. Information should be uncomplicated yet specific. Practitioners should use repetition for key points and minimize the use of jargon.

“Detailed information, communicated clearly, goes a long way. … When you explain things in a way that patients can understand they are more likely to be compliant with what you asked them to do,” Lehrman said.

The next step after sharing information with the patient is to check their understanding by asking them to repeat back the information or instructions. Patients often can become overwhelmed by information and miss the most important takeaways.

“You may be humbled and surprised at how little they take in,” Lehrman said. “It is a good way to test yourself and assess how you are doing.”

Last, practitioners need to finish the visit by asking, “What else?”

Lehrman said research has shown better communication during patient visits is associated with improved physiological measures, improved health status and improved measures of functional status.

Last, Lehrman said, office staff should be briefed in communication techniques. Sometimes patients actually spend more time with office staff than they do with the practitioner.

“Your staff is the first person the patients see and the last person the patients see,” he said. – by Amanda Alexander


Lehrman J. The value of excellent patient communication and interpersonal skills. Presented at: Pedorthic Footcare Association and American Podiatric Medical Association Combined Meeting; July 23-25, 2015; Orlando, Fla.

Disclosure: Lehrman reports no relevant financial disclosures.

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