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Healthgrades for Professionals6 Things Never to Say to Patients

Navigating Communication: Key Strategies for Physicians to Build Trust and Avoid Misunderstandings

Effective communication in healthcare is vital not only for patient satisfaction but also for reducing the risk of malpractice claims. A notable disparity exists between physicians’ and patients’ perceptions of communication effectiveness. In fact, although 84% of doctors believe their patient interactions are satisfactory, only 67% of patients agree. This gap indicates a significant room for improvement in how physicians engage with their patients. This article provides actionable advice for physicians on phrases to avoid and suggests alternatives that foster a positive dialogue, thus enhancing the overall quality of care.

Key Points:

  1. Handling Uncertainty: Avoid saying “I don’t know.” This might make you appear unprepared. Instead, opt for “I don’t know at the moment, but I will find out for you,” which shows commitment to finding the answer and maintains patient trust.
  2. Avoiding Blame: Refrain from telling patients, “You should have come in to see me sooner.” This can make patients feel blamed for their condition. Acknowledge their circumstances and suggest alternatives like telehealth to facilitate easier access to care.
  3. Validating Online Research: Do not dismiss the internet as a source of information with “The Internet isn’t your doctor, I am.” Recognize the effort patients put into researching their conditions and use this as a starting point for open discussions.
  4. Managing Patient Concerns: Instead of saying, “Don’t worry about that right now,” which may belittle their concerns, reassure patients by discussing current priorities and how their other concerns will be addressed later.
  5. Ensuring Understanding: Replace “Do you understand?” with requests for patients to describe in their own words what was discussed. This checks their understanding without putting them on the spot.
  6. Setting Realistic Expectations About Pain: Never assure “This won’t hurt at all.” Discuss typical experiences and available pain management options, respecting individual differences in pain perception.

According to data from the National Health Interview Survey, during July–December 2022, 58.5% of adults used the Internet to look for health or medical information, with a higher prevalence observed among women compared with men.

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