Common Patient Communication Complaints: Why They Are Well Worth Resolving.

Posted on October 1, 2012

Communicating effectively with your doctor is essential for so many reasons, not the least of which is that patients who are able to communicate and collaborate well with their physicians have better health care outcomes. Unfortunately, communication can break down easily given the emotionally charged nature of the patient-doctor communication and the intense and hurried pace of medical office visits. Here are some tips to consider when having conversations with your physician to discuss your complaints.

A study published in Academic Medicine identified some common patient-doctor communication complaints including: 1) Lack of availability- such as unanswered phone calls to the physician’s office and lack of prompt follow up; 2) Disrespect- patients’ perceptions that doctors were intentionally rude and condescending in their communication; 3) Inadequate information- the doctors’ failure to provide information to patients in a timely and understandable manner; and, 4) Distrust- misinformation and misunderstanding leading to patients’ questioning of doctors’ honesty and informational accuracy (Wofford et al., 2004).

Responsibility for good communication is shared between patients and physicians.  Physicians are responsible for making sure that their patients have the necessary knowledge, skills, and resources to be actively involved in shared health care decision-making and illness management and patients are responsible for asking questions, providing feedback, explaining their beliefs and values, and participating in, and adhering to, the treatment plan.  

Establishing good communication with your physician takes effort, planning and honest feedback, on your part.  To that end, it is important that patients resolve complaints and misunderstandings in a timely manner. Tell your doctor how you feel when, for example, your calls to the office go unanswered or when the treatment instructions provided are not clear. Some sample language includes, “ When I don’t get a call back from your office for several days, I feel as if my calls are unimportant to you and not worth the effort to follow up”. “I can’t take proper care of my diabetes if I don’t understand what I am supposed to eat.”

If you feel that you have been treated rudely or if you have received conflicting information, make sure that your doctor knows.  “At my last office visit when you told me that I keep asking the same questions over and over, I felt very disrespected by you.”  “The drug information you gave me was different from the instructions that the pharmacist provided.  I need an explanation to understand the discrepancy.”

The work that good communication requires is well worth the effort, since the end result is a more positive patient care experience and better health outcomes.