Physicians realize the importance of interpersonal communication skills for delivering effective care and ensuring patient satisfaction. Yet changes in healthcare are pushing doctors to care for patients in shorter visits while juggling more administrative tasks.

Electronic health records also demand new interpersonal skills from busy physicians. As Calvin Chou, UCSF Professor and VP for External Education at the Academy of Communication in Health Care summarizes: “As recent technological advances drive people toward interacting with devices rather than directly with others, in the health care setting, interpersonal communication skills have never been more important.”

Excellent communication pays off

There is no shortage of evidence showing that how clinicians interact with patients has real consequences. Effective communication leads to increased patient and clinician satisfaction, increased trust with the clinician, and functional and psychological well-being. Excellent communication has also been shown to improve outcomes for specific diseases – from reducing risk of mortality from coronary artery disease to improving control of diabetes. A recent review concluded that a strong patient-physician relationship has a small but statistically significant benefit for overall health care outcomes.

In addition to improving satisfaction and outcomes, developing intentional clinical communication habits is extremely practical. A short but focused initial interaction will save time clarifying patient needs later in a visit. Perceived communication failures are also associated with more medical malpractice claims.

“As recent technological advances drive people toward interacting with devices rather than directly with others, in the health care setting, interpersonal communication skills have never been more important.”

Finally, Americans increasingly trust online doctor reviews. A single dissatisfied patient could leave a poor review that impacts your practice. Being intentional about how you interact with patients is an important way to ensure that your online presence reflects the quality of care you offer.

How to guarantee patient satisfaction

Here are 5 simple tips to ensure patients are satisfied while you continue providing quality care with short, efficient office visits.

1) Make eye contact

The best way to show someone you are listening is to make eye contact. This seems simple, but especially as data entry has moved to computers, a surprising number of clinicians forget to look up from the screen.

Research shows that healthcare providers who consistently make eye contact are perceived by patients as being more empathetic. Busy providers will benefit from making eye contact a regular part of patient interactions, even if only during the initial greeting.

2) Give patients time to speak

Clinicians are trained to elicit the patient agenda, but for how long do you let them respond? A recent study of 272 clinical encounters found that clinicians usually interrupted patients after just 11 seconds.

Listening carefully to patients is not only important for effective, patient-centered care – it’s also efficient. Wait at least 30 seconds to hear the patient’s agenda before redirecting the conversation. This will ensure that you are orienting the clinical encounter towards specific priorities that matter to each patient.

3) Know the patient’s name

Similar to making eye contact, using a patient’s name makes them feel more cared for. This is as simple as making sure to glance at their chart or have an aid brief you before entering the exam room.

Doctors who have gone mobile will also find that certain software platforms can help. For example, apps like Mobius Clinic allow the medical team to easily match patients to exam rooms, so that the patient’s chart will immediately load on the provider’s mobile device when they enter the room.

4) Have your literature ready

Do you have systems in place to easily share literature with your patients about their condition?

Educational materials and other resources are an important component of patient engagement. There are now software solutions that can save you time by customizing links, attachments and product recommendations relevant to your common cases. The result is less time sharing literature, more satisfied patients and better health outcomes.

5) Use effective clinical communication

What you say to patients may be the most important facet of the clinical encounter. There are many well-developed models and approaches designed to help healthcare professionals communicate with patients in a way that decreases patient anxiety, increases compliance and improves clinical outcomes.

In the era of digital health, devoting time to honing your clinical communication skills is more important than ever.

Three approaches to better patient-physician communication