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Nov 4 2010

Board member perspective: On improving physician-patient communication

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Image for Board member perspective: On improving physician-patient communication Effective interpersonal communication with patients is not a subject I have occasion to reflect on regularly. Nonetheless, like most physicians, communicating successfully with patients is something I must do on a daily basis. I recently chose to spend a Saturday completing a one-day course designed to improve physician-patient communication. My instructor was Joe Kertesz, who offers this communications course to doctors across North Carolina. His course is one of two identified by the Board last year as part of an effort to locate costeffective, in-state programs
that might be used by licensees, either because they have an identified need to improve communication skills, or because they want to. Interestingly, three of the participants in the session I completed were physicians who enrolled in the course at the Board’s request. The course materials and section topics prepared by Mr. Kertesz are designed to prepare participants to communicate with any patient, in any health care venue.

We role-played, taking turns playing “patient” and “physician” for insight into being the patient, and for the opportunity to practice approaching patients with specific needs and attitudes. Some of the more sensitive scenarios we acted out included end-of-life situations and injuries that occur as a result of medical care.

We discussed the need to recognize that patients may present with anger, fear, intimidation and reliance for/on physicians. Mr. Kertesz emphasized the importance of clearly identifying each patient's complaint so that you may address their issues. Perhaps even more important, we discussed finding ways to form an alliance with the patient and his or her family for either the short, episodic care, (which, as an anesthesiologist, is what I most often provide), or long term relationships. Making that connection is an important step that can help prevent future miscommunication and/or misunderstanding.

Effective physician communicators acquire these skills early in clinical training, but Mr. Kertesz believes that it is never too late for a physician to cultivate them. In addition, practitioners who value good communication always have the opportunity to sit back and say, “How am I doing?” I approached the course in this spirit.

I found Mr. Kertesz’s course to be a refreshing seven hours of constant feedback and open discussion of the many possible settings and scenarios that we as physicians walk into, both prepared and unprepared.

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