Improve Physician Communication Skills to Improve Outcomes

Whether it’s educating a patient, solving a problem in multi-disciplinary group, advocating for patients, or leading the OR team, a physician’s ability to communicate may be his or her most important asset. 

Poor Communication Means Poor Outcomes

Research shows that communication breakdowns are a primary cause of poor patient outcomes.  It’s been reported that:

  • 55% of patient concerns aren’t identified;
  • Patients don’t understand 60% of instructions; and
  • Patient adherence to chronic condition medication is as low as 50%

Communication drives patient satisfaction scores.  More so than actual clinical and technical (which the patient can’t really evaluate),  patient satisfaction relates to the perception of the provider’s empathy and technical competence – and that perception is wholly dependent on the clinician’s communication skills.

Successfully preventing illness, or managing chronic conditions, goes far beyond just diagnose and treat.  It requires the ability to engage the patient and improve treatment adherence.  Adverse events in the operating room are often due to poor communication – particularly a failure by the surgeon to create an environment of effective communication.

Communication and Leadership

Even beyond direct patient care, physicians are expected to lead, to work in multi-disciplinary teams, and solve complex problems.  All of these functions require the ability to build relationships – and relationships are built on communication skills.  

We’ve Shown that Communication Skills Can Be Improved

At J3P, we’ve been focused on self-awareness as the foundation for improving communication.  In fact, our recent research collaborations, (see our research, here) have established that certain personality traits can predict whether a physician will be naturally adept at empathic patient communication.  This means we can identify which physicians will need more training on specific communication techniques.

The need for practical, scalable, and effective physician communication training is why we partnered with Astute Doctor.  They provide a comprehensive online, interactive program to improve physician communication.  The program was developed by physicians and adult learning experts, is evidence based, and includes a library of eight engaging courses  – all CME accredited.

In a two-year study involving 220 physicians, there was a 17% improvement in HCAHPS top box scores, and participating physicians reported significant improvements in their confidence connecting with patients and using empathy-based techniques.

What we like about the Astute Doctor platform  is that goes beyond the why and what of communication and provides specific communication techniques (the “how”) in six important areas:

  • Empathy
  • Being “patient-centered”
  • Showing Courtesy
  • Listening attentively
  • Setting clear expectations
  • Being respectful

Courses include such topics as “Motivating Patients”, “Managing Difficult Patients”, and “Maximizing Patient Understanding and Recall.”

The benefits of improving communication skills are pretty obvious:

  • Improved quality of care – preventing adverse events
  • Lowered readmissions because of enhanced compliance
  • Improved patient experience ratings
  • Even lower malpractice risks

It Seems Like a No Brainer

You would think that physician communication training would be a priority. Given what’s at stake, “hoping” that physicians can communicate effectively seems a bit odd.  In our work evaluating personality and self-awareness, physicians immediately see the value of using this information to improve their communication skills.

Astute Doctor, then, provides the concrete “how” of improving these skills.  This work is not a heavy lift. If done correctly, we’ve shown that it is relatively inexpensive and is not a large time commitment – but the ROI is substantial.

We like the idea of starting with a dive into enhanced self-awareness – to understand the physician’s natural tendencies.  Then we can tailor the training to the physician’s needs.  We are also doing an interesting session in a few weeks for the American College of Preventative Medicine’s Prevention Conference in Pittsburgh.  We’ll be working with physician leaders on effective influencing and communication techniques – i.e. enhancing leadership effectiveness by improving communication skills.

To learn more about our tools and approach, visit us at

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