Two skills--listening and communication--are essential for anyone dealing with people on a regular basis. As a matter of fact, until Julius Fast wrote his brilliant book Body Language, listening skills were not given much credence by many so-called communication experts and consultants.
That changed quickly as evidence increasingly showed that people who had the ability to listen well tended to be more successful than those who did not.
Now there is clear proof that in the world of medicine, communicating and listening make a significant difference as to how a primary-care physician is perceived by patients.
The evidence is contained in a study conducted by Wendy Levinson, M.D., that was published in the Feb. 17, 1997, issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.
At the 10th anniversary of the Bayer Institute, Levinson told healthcare professionals, "For the first time, physicians know what specific communication skills are important to decrease malpractice risk." She presented data that showed primary-care physicians who had never been sued by a patient used different communication skills than those who had.
Levinson's JAMA study showed both time and humor safeguard physicians from malpractice suits. Office visits of 59 primary-care physicians from Colorado and Oregon were analyzed. The doctors who had never been sued spent an average of 18.3 minutes with patients. Those who had faced malpractice suits spent an average of 15 minutes with their patients. Other findings showed physicians who had not faced suits used humor and laughed more and were careful to explain in detail what they were doing. They also encouraged their patients to talk about what was bothering them.
Simple stuff, really, but then so is smiling and so are good manners. However, too many people in and out of medicine don't practice the art of being a decent human being. Gregory Carroll, director of the Bayer Institute, put it this way: "Clinicians who communicate well with patients will see several benefits, including increased patient satisfaction, better patient outcomes, increased physician satisfaction and reduced malpractice risk."
Frankly, good communication just makes good business sense. Those who view themselves as physician leaders should make sure colleagues understand the value of these skills.
It pays to listen, Charles S. Lauer Publisher