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When it comes to health, communication is a two-way street

Christiana Care

A vocal doctor-patient relationship is crucial especially when a patient's needs should be addressed. 

This week on “Take Care,” Dr. Atul Grover discusses the importance of increased communication between doctors and patients. Grover is chief public policy officer of the Association of American Medical Colleges.

Grover thinks the emphasis on doctor-patient communication comes from the physicians and from the patients themselves.

“I think we, as physicians in the medical community, realize that we can be the best technical experts in the world and yet if we can’t communicate to our patients effectively about what we need to do to help them take care of themselves, we’re not going to do a great job at keeping them healthy or getting them to recover from illness,” Grover says.  

Surveys are one tool to give physicians a better understanding of patients’ needs.

“When we ask the general public ‘where do you think we’re falling short as people who educate and train physicians’ they often say ‘you know I really wish my doctor would spend more time with me, communicate with me more, have a better bed side manner,’” Grover says.  

According to Grover, almost 90 percent of graduating medical students feel they have the appropriate amount of experience in physician and patient communication and 85 percent of the schools report to have medical humanities as a required course.

"What we’ve had to do is figure out how really to integrate those communication and interpersonal skills into, not just dedicated courses, but really throughout the learning experience." Grover says.

Theater programs, such as acting and improvisation, and buddy programs are being used in medical schools to find a way to improve the way physicians and patients understand, and communicate, with each other

“All of this is sort of being worked into programs like George Washington University, where I’m on faculty, University of Utah, Mt. Sinai,” Grover says. “This is happening in a lot of different places. We are finding new ways to really explore how to not just create wonderfully technically competent individuals but people who are compassionate, empathetic and can have that conversation with a patient when they really need someone to talk to.”

Medical schools are also trying to change the way in which they accept students by no longer placing sole focus on their exams and MCAT results and taking, what Grover refers to as a holistic review.

“Really you’re looking at ‘do I want this person as a doctor, first and foremost. Do I want them caring for me and my family; do I want them on the team?’” Grover said.

Grover believes that a patient’s needs cannot be addressed if their physician does not understand their needs in the first place.

“There’s no substitute for good communication,” Grover said. “You can define being patient-centered in a variety of different ways but I think, at the end of the day, you need to understand what the patient’s goals are and what their life circumstances are.”