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The Power of Communication in Private Practice Medicine

Grace Torres-Hodges, DPM, MBA explains how mastering the skill of effective communication can build trust and confidence, two things that can be critical to a private practice's success.

March 20, 2024

Communication lies at the heart of human interaction, shaping our personal connections and global engagements alike. From everyday conversations to international dialogues, the need for clear understanding is paramount. Whether we’re chatting with friends or hashing out agreements between nations, effective communication is key. It’s the tool that helps us share ideas, build relationships, and resolve conflicts with empathy and understanding at its core.

In our current practice of medicine, this emphasis on effective communication takes on profound significance, especially in our private practices that revolve around the delicate relationship between a doctor and patient. The ability of a physician to convey “who they are,” “what they do,” and “what they can offer” is pivotal in establishing a deep connection with patients. This becomes even more nuanced in private practice, where the physician themselves is the product marketed to their target audience – their patients. The clarity and empathy with which medical information is shared can greatly influence a patient’s understanding of their condition, treatment options, and overall well-being. It forms the bedrock of trust and collaboration, essential for navigating the complexities of healthcare together.

I think most of us have observed or experienced the rushed nature of some of today’s patient visits. I can’t help but notice the stark lack of warmth and human connection in some of these encounters. It’s a sobering reality check. However, amidst this clinical environment, there is a glaring opportunity to refine the often overlooked soft skill of communication. I recently stumbled upon my notes from an interview I gave back in 2016, entitled “Clinician-patient communication: How personal connections can improve outcomes.” It’s intriguing to see how this topic still holds significance, underscoring the critical value of honing this skill in our everyday practice.

Here are some of my tips…

 

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Understand Your Audience

Before I start any conversation, it’s crucial for me to grasp the nuances of my diverse patient demographic. This understanding allows me to tailor my language to align precisely with their preferences, needs, and concerns. In doing so, I always strive for clarity without any hint of condescension.

For instance, when speaking with adults, I choose terms and use examples that resonate with their experiences and understanding of health. This might involve delving into more technical details or using medical jargon that they’re familiar with. On the other hand, with my pediatric patients, I take a different approach. I want to make it simple but engaging – maybe something about school or a character from a movie or on their game app.  It creates a connection and is easy to comprehend, ensuring they feel comfortable and empowered to participate in their healthcare decisions.

By adapting my communication style to each patient group, my goal is to create an environment of trust and understanding. It’s about meeting them where they are, speaking their language, and ultimately fostering a strong doctor-patient relationship built on mutual respect and clear communication. This personalized approach ensures that every patient feels heard, valued, and fully informed about their health and treatment options.

 

Emphasize Value

I make it a point to emphasize the benefits patients receive in your private practice – regardless of if you are in a third-party payor model or an all cash practice.

It’s not about a number.

I will talk about that value and state it from the perspective of the patients’ experience.

My patients get extended appointment times, personalized care plans, and direct access to me, their physician.

It’s not merely a transaction—it’s an investment in their long-term health.

I explain to them that with extended appointment times, they don’t feel rushed; we have the luxury of discussing their concerns thoroughly. Their care plan is tailor-made for them, focusing on their unique health needs. And having direct access to me means they’re never left wondering or waiting when questions arise. My patients aren’t just paying for a service; they’re forging a partnership with us. It’s a commitment to their well-being, ensuring their health is our top priority with the time and attention they deserve.

 

My patients get extended appointment times, personalized care plans, and direct access to me, their physician. It's not merely a transaction—it's an investment in their long-term health. Click To Tweet

 

Educate Without Overwhelming

When discussing clinical concepts with patients, my approach is all about making the complex simple. Instead of inundating them with technical terminology, I break down these ideas into easily digestible pieces using everyday language.  For example, when talking about foot biomechanics, I use the example of car alignment and movement.

For me, the phrase “a picture is worth 1000 words” is true, and a key strategy I employ is the use of visual aids. Whether it’s through informative brochures, diagrams, or engaging infographics, these tools help to simplify the information and enhance comprehension.

Also having something tangible to give your patient at the end of the visit allows patients to review in their own time the clinical concepts in a clear, tangible way. This approach not only demystifies medical information but also empowers patients to take an active role in their healthcare decisions. It’s about ensuring that every patient, regardless of their familiarity with medical terms, feels informed and confident in their understanding of their health.

 

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Embrace Transparency

Open and honest communication is transparent and at the core of building trust, whether in the clinical realm of delivering good or difficult news.

When it comes to discussing treatment options with patients, including the choice of no treatment, we recognize the importance of informed consent—it’s about ensuring patients fully understand their options.

This same principle of transparency extends to the financial aspect of healthcare.

I believe in clearly explaining the rationale behind the direct pay model, emphasizing the removal of third-party interference and our unwavering focus on patient-centered care. By addressing any potential concerns upfront, we create an atmosphere of transparency and foster patient confidence in their decisions.

In direct care practices, we take transparency to the next level by providing clear price information and offering flexible payment options. This empowers patients to not only understand their healthcare costs but also budget and plan for them effectively. It’s about ensuring that patients have the information they need to make informed choices and feel supported every step of the way.

 

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Encourage Active Participation

In my practice, I’ve found that one of the most powerful tools in healthcare communication is encouraging active participation from my patients.

It’s not just about delivering information—it’s about creating a space where patients feel empowered to ask questions, share their concerns, and actively engage in their healthcare decisions.

I believe that when patients are active participants in their own care, the results are truly transformative. It’s inspiring to see how collaboration and shared decision-making lead to better health outcomes and a deeper sense of ownership over one’s well-being.

So, I make it a point to invite questions, no matter how big or small, and to listen attentively to my patients’ thoughts and preferences. I encourage them to voice their concerns, share their goals, and actively participate in crafting their treatment plans.

This approach not only strengthens the doctor-patient relationship but also leads to more personalized and effective healthcare. Patients feel valued, respected, and heard, which in turn boosts their confidence in their healthcare decisions.

 

In my practice, I've found that one of the most powerful tools in healthcare communication is encouraging active participation from my patients.

 

I’ve seen firsthand the impact of patients taking an active role in their care—it’s a powerful catalyst for positive change. It’s not just about receiving treatment; it’s about embarking on a journey toward better health together, as a team. By encouraging active participation, we empower our patients to become partners in their own healthcare, and that’s truly inspiring.

In the constantly changing field of medicine, doctors are not only specialists in their fields but also educators, communicators, and collaborators in the health of their patients. It is crucial to be able to clearly explain difficult ideas, inspire confidence, and establish trustworthy connections. In order to be truly successful in this field, doctors must develop a skill set that goes beyond their medical knowledge. Soft skills, which are subtle yet effective, are essential for differentiating yourself and putting you in a position to thrive in your private practice.

All opinions published on SomeDocs-Mag are the author’s and do not reflect the official position of SoMeDocs, its staff, editors. SoMeDocs is a magazine built with the safety of free expression and diverse perspectives in mind. For more information, or to submit your own opinion, please see our submission guidelines or email opmed@doximity.com. Do you have a compelling personal story you’d like to see published on SoMeDocs? Find out what we’re looking for here and submit your writing, or send us a pitch.

All opinions published on SomeDocs-Mag are the author’s and do not reflect the official position of SoMeDocs, its staff, editors. SoMeDocs is a magazine built with the safety of free expression and diverse perspectives in mind. Do you have a compelling personal story you’d like to see published on SoMeDocs? Submit your own article now here.

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