Improving Physician Communication


In today’s discussion, I wanted to see where, as physicians and nurses, you may be struggling with day to day communications in your workplace. More specifically, how effective is physician communication?

In looking at the effectiveness of physician communication, we must look at two paths. One is the level of communication with the nursing staff. The second path looks at communication with patients and their families.

How well you communicate has a direct impact on the work culture and environment. It can strengthen overall staff performance and patient outcomes. It can also cause stress, increase hospital risk, and result in negative HCAHPS scores.

As we take a look at this topic, I will share a few tips that will help you think differently and make decisions that will result in better outcomes.

As a physician or resident, can you think of a time where a breakdown in communication occurred between yourself and a peer or patient? Maybe you felt like the person below and really wanted to give someone a piece of your mind.

Looking back, do you remember the root cause of the communication breakdown? By having a healthy self-awareness, you can assess how you or others may be feeling before or during an encounter. It also allows you to adjust your approach and allows you to respond vs. react.

In the animal world, we often see immediate responses to threatening situations.

It may be a snapping crocodile, a yellow jacket attacking you as you walk over a ground nest or a rattlesnake that strikes out as you step near its resting spot. Animals only have a reaction to an event.

As humans, we should be utilizing skills that allow us to respond instead of reacting. Physician communication must involve assessing the patient or nurses mood in order to be effective. We all have bad days. Body and voice tone can tip you off to how someone’s day is going. Asking friendly, probing questions can do the same and offer similar clues.

While we can brush off this key skill and just want others to stick to the business and facts at hand, that is only realistic in serious and critical events. The most effective businesses and communicators build trust through strengthening bonds and their relationships with others.

As a summary and some action items to help you increase your physician communication skills, incorporate the following tips:

  • Get good sleep. As a physician, you already know the importance of hitting your ideal sleep number each night. Not only is decision-making affected, but your emotional state is also impacted.


  • Listen – for what isn’t being said. Facial expressions, crossed arms, voice tone all can hint towards real communication of feelings and attitudes.

Remember, patients may not trust you early in your relationship. Trust and transparency must be shown along with empathy. Peers will respect you and care more when they know you care about them. Find out about their concerns, challenges, and fears.

It doesn’t take a lot of time and it goes a long way toward creating a team that is effective, patients that want to follow the prescribed course of action, and physicians that are happier and have less burnout.

For a more detailed article on physician communication, click the link below. The article is from the online Journal of the American Osteopathic Association.

Leave your comments to let us know your thoughts, challenges, and perspectives. To learn more specifics on building communication skills, contact us at

Does Your Organizational Culture Support Success?

So, as a hospital facility, how can you create a vibrant organizational culture? Do you know what type of culture exists in your healthcare facilities? Why does it matter?

Let’s look at these questions and why creating a vibrant organizational culture is one of my 4 keys to organizational success.

What is organizational culture? It can be explained in numerous ways.

  • It is how things are done in the workplace (coaching/mentoring..)
  • It is how employees are recognized and rewarded
  • It is the consistent patterns that guide behaviors and decisions
  • It is shared beliefs and values

It is strengthened by actions that build trust and transparency. It is driven and defined first by management and their backing up their talk and message.

Employee behavior is reinforced with checks and balances by peers and management. It is important for everyone to feel free to call out behavior deviating from the established norm. Without that autonomy, you can never achieve the broad employee buy-in that drives true change.

If you have worked at several companies, odds are that you have experienced a less than stellar organizational culture at one time or another. Maybe it was downright toxic. Distrust, back-stabbing, office politics all play into a bad work culture.

I have worked at Fortune 500 companies that had varied cultures among their different departments (production, sales, quality control). This created a bit of dysfunction and kept people working in silos instead of on the same team. Let’s look at a few ways organizations can create the foundation that sets up the path toward developing a great work culture.

Management can utilize surveys of staff and patients. That input will provide a sense of what patients and their families value most about the hospital environment, treatment outcomes, and staff performance. Hopefully, patients feel safe, understood, and respected. Specific values and behaviors that will become foundational to your organizational culture should be identified.

Once those assets are identified, it is important to live them out. The organizational culture will develop by staff buy-in, human resources hiring the right people, and supervisors building trust within their teams. Trust and transparency is key to building strong relationships with peers and patients.

Effective communication is a significant part of a good organizational culture. I refer to the depth and effectiveness of this practice as tactical communication. This includes intent listening and seeking to understand, showing real empathy toward others, and understanding how to best communicate with specific individuals. It also means showing respect, building trust, and allowing idea’s to be shared without fear of ridicule or a dismissive attitude.

Great companies all over the world understand that a healthy organizational culture is critical to success. Many hospitals and the healthcare industry in general, have fallen behind. It’s never too late to start reviewing and defining your culture to make a better hospital, improve employee retention, engagement, and patient satisfaction.

David Novak, former CEO of YUM brands ( Pizza Hut, Taco Bell, and Pepsi) thought it should be the top focus for companies. With 1.4 Million employees in 120 companies performing well under his leadership, companies should take note of the success that can be realized when culture is a priority.

“Great companies talk about their work environment and the culture they have. Making the culture your #1 priority is the biggest single thing you can do.”

What steps will you take to ensure your organizational culture supports a great patient experience and highly engaged employees?