Effective communication with patients makes the difference in health

August 18, 2015

Dr Ranjana Srivistava, Oncologist was asked on Q&A recently what is her sputnik moment in health care?*  By this the host, Tony Jones explained that he meant something that has never happened before, that she (and the other eminent panellists), would like to see happen.  Her reply is startling.  She replied that in the world of health, improving doctor-patient communication is her mission and that this is “the biggest challenge faced by modern medicine”.  She went on to comment about how science and technology must bring the patients along too, that all the wonderful technology and discovery we make through science can not be optimised if we do not engage the people who might most benefit.  In other words, medicine is an art and a science.

Dr Ranjana Srivastava on Q&A

Her reply is startling because it is taken for granted by many health professionals that they are communicating well, and yet there are so many patients and clients who will readily furnish us with tales of woe from the health system, stories of doctors and other health professionals failing to communicate the necessary information to them compassionately.

It is well established in the field of education that people who are relaxed and open are more able to learn.  To ‘take it in’.  We have learnt from neuroscience and psychology that when the stress response is activated we are less able to access our prefrontal cortex where we do our higher order thinking, like making complex decisions.  Why is it then that we assume that complex information about health and treatment can be given to people immediately after they learn about their distressing diagnosis?   And how is it that we have come to assume that doctors and other health professionals will be able to automatically communicate well, just because they are intelligent and educated in their technical speciality?

A typical day in Australia’s health system involves in excess of 342,000 GP visits 23,000 admissions to hospitals and 17,000 presentations to emergency departments of larger public hospitals. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, 2012 There are significant challenges is actively caring for so many people every day and in making sure the care providers are okay.  But isn’t that what it’s all about?

Communication is at the very core of caring.  When we listen carefully and pay attention to the needs of our patient/client and their family we improve their safety (World Health Organisation – patient safety) and their perception of their health situation.   We enable them to make effective choices, to engage in their own health care.   Maintaining empathy, compassion and effective communication requires conscious effort, practice and feedback.  I join with Dr Srivastava in her intention to work towards great patient centred care being an everyday expectation, not a sputnik moment.  We can all improve our health and our health care outcomes by improving our communication.  Do you have a way of reviewing and improving your communication skills?

Learn more about Dr. Ranjana Srivastava

Learn more about Sharee Johnson

*Sputnik 1, the first Earth-orbiting satellite, was launched into orbit by the Soviet Union on Oct. 4, 1957. At the time, Sputnik was the first human-built object launched into orbit.  “A Sputnik moment is a trigger mechanism, an event that makes people collectively say that they need to do something, and this sets a course in another direction,” said Roger Launius, senior curator of the National Air and Space Museum’s division of space history at the Smithsonian Institution.


This event was posted by Sharee Johnson.
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