Doctor-Patient Communication is the #1 Problem in Medicine

At the 2015 National Health Policy Conference held in Washington, D.C., members of the Agency for Healthcare Research and Policy agreed that the need for research focusing on the doctor-patient relationship was urgent in order to address the current crisis of patient dissatisfaction, medical-error, malpractice claims and physician burnout.

Patients are not happy, doctors and medical teams are not happy, and the health care system is struggling to adapt measures to turn the tide of this growing problem. The 2012 Institute for HealthCare Communication (IHC) report regarding research on the impact of poor communication revealed the following:

  • Research conducted during the 10 year period of 1995-2005 has demonstrated that ineffective team communication is the root cause for nearly 66 percent of all medical errorsduring that period.
  • This means that when healthcare team members do not communicate effectively, patient care often suffers.
  • Further, medical error vulnerability is increased when healthcare team members are under stress, are in high-task situations, and when they are not communicating clearly or effectively.

The research from the IHC reports cites that 50% of all malpractice is the result of poor communication between doctor and patient.

The IHC report states: "Research evidence indicates that there are strong positive relationships between a healthcare team member’s communication skills and a patient’s capacity to follow through with medical recommendations, self-manage a chronic medical condition, and adopt preventive health behaviors. Studies conducted during the past three decades show that the clinician’s ability to explain, listen and empathize can have a profound effect on biological and functional health outcomes as well as patient satisfaction and experience of care."

IHC goes on to make an alarming statement that “Extensive research has shown that no matter how knowledgeable a clinician might be, if he or she is not able to open good communication with the patient, he or she may be of no help.”

And, while the addition of nurse health coaches to the medical team has been viewed by some as a solution to the communication problem, the relationship between the physician or primary care provider and the patient cannot be corrected by these additional team members. In fact, not addressing the underlying cause of doctor-patient discomfort may even increase the distrust and discomfort the patient experiences with their doctor or primary care provider.

As physicians, physician assistants and nurse practitioners are the diagnostic experts in our medical care system, ensuring the communication between these providers and their patients is critical, as research data demonstrates.

A recent pilot study, conducted through Central Michigan University (CMU), on the effects of a communication model, Behavior Engagement with Pure Presence, on patient and physician satisfaction has just concluded, and will be published shortly. The study was funded by Blue Cross and Blue Shield Foundation of Michigan.

The Primary Investigator (P.I.) of this study, Dr. Christine Clipper, wanted to thoroughly test the Behavioral Engagement model by including renowned endocrinologist, Dr. Opada Alzohaili, who was trained in the model's communication skills and had previously earned high patient satisfaction survey ratings. Dr. Alzohaili's post-pilot patient satisfaction scores were significant, revealing 100% improvement on all measures of patient perception of relational empathy during their encounter with the doctor, in contrast to his pre-pilot patient satisfaction scores.

Dr. Clipper's research data demonstrated that Behavioral Engagement with Pure Presence has "…a psychological effect on the patient's perception of the patient-provider relationship. The patient perception of relational empathy with their doctor increased through improved provider communication skills through applying the Behavioral Engagement model."

Further research on the application of the model includes a pilot study on the Behavioral Engagement model in Electronic Medical Record Communication, funded by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services/ MI Dept. of Community Health;
and a randomized controlled clinical trial study with funding from major national health care organizations.
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Dr. Georgianna Donadio is the Director of the National Institute of Whole Health and author of the multi-award winning, Amazon bestselling book, Changing Behavior.