4 Ways You Can Start Improving Physician-Patient Communication Right Now

Andrea Padilla
Published on Jun 21, 2021. Updated on Jun 21, 2021.

Communication is the most important thing in any relationship, and with our patients, it is no exception. Here you will find four tips to improve communication with your patient.

During four years, I was a caregiver for a family member with a chronic illness. At that time I met some hospitals, many doctors and other patients. I learned about the relationship of doctors with patients and families and realized the best ways to approach patients. I also had the experience of hearing tangled words and understanding them better and better as I progressed in my studies.

From my standpoint, here are the best tips to help the patient and their families feel better, through communication.

1. Talk with colloquial words

When two people are talking in different languages, it is not communication. For us health professionals, technicalities are our everyday language, but for our patients, it is a totally unknown language, so it is best to explain with metaphors.

For example, if I explain to my patient that self-medicating with antibiotics could be dangerous because it damages the microbiota, probably he will not understand me. But, if I told my patient that the microbiota is like a garden, with good bacterias and other microorganisms like plants, and they don't allow the growth of grass, (bad bacterias), he will be more careful.

Osmosis text about communication

2. Explain Why

It's easier to persuade when you argue with why. When we explain to someone the why, of the treatment, the therapies, the diet, he will understand the importance of following the step by step. It's not the same: You must do exercise. To say: “When you do exercise, you are going to oxygenate all the cells in your body, including your brain, It will make you more productive and perform better, your body will be activated, you will feel very good because when you exercise, the brain produces chemicals that will make you feel better.”

For us what seems simple is a new world for patients, stopping to explain how things work will give them peace of mind.

3. Say things with empathy, with assertive communication

Keep in mind that patients are always in a susceptible position, they are sick, and that in itself is a nuisance. The least they expect from us is comfort. And what they never expect is to be treated badly.

If we have time, it is good to listen and let them vent to us. Hearing from your patients is an important part of assertive communication.

If we do not have time, it is better to change the subject in a delicate way, that perceives that the change is in a subtle way, without being aggressive, speaking as you would like to be spoken to, with empathy. For example, what you are telling me is very important, we could talk about it at another time, but for this moment we are going to talk about ... (objective of the medical consultation)

What patients expect most from us is the solution to their ailments, not only physical but also emotional.

4. What about difficult patients?

Many times patients are irritable, and instead of wanting to vent, they want to fight with us. That is why we must remain calm, and let them know that we have empathy for them, starting with I understand that ... for example:

Patient: The health insurance does not want to approve my surgery, I do not understand why you (the doctors) do not help me as you should!

Doctor: I understand that bureaucracy is difficult, but unfortunately, I cannot do anything about it, because their decisions do not depend on me.

This will help calm them down.

Osmosis ilustration of patiently a doctor explaining a treatment to a patient sitting in a hospital bed.


Patients are in an uncomfortable situation, often painful, the least they expect is to have a good relationship with us, that we make them feel better. Communication is a powerful tool, with it you can have the best relationship with your patient, and in addition to that, you can make sure that they follow your instructions.

When patients do not understand what is happening in their body, they sometimes worry too much, and many times all they need is to be clear about what is happening inside them, giving them answers that they need is very beneficial for their emotional well-being.

By improving communication, you will improve the relationship with your patients and they will feel more confident to express what they need, how they feel, and this will improve your chances of diagnosing and helping them.

About Andrea Padilla

Andrea Padilla is a second year medical student at The National University of Colombia. She's from Bogotá, Colombia. Her hobbies are going to museums, art galleries and the "septimazo," walking in the seventh race in Bogotá, which is a cultural race. Gloria’s medical interest is between biomedical engineering and the Master of Science Program in Biomedical Communications.


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