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