How important is being a good communicator in the doctor-patient relationship?

We are all familiar with the phrase “a good bedside manner” which purports to show some facets of the personality of a doctor. And there’s no doubt that this asset makes patients feel very comfortable.

Yet the relationship between a potential patient or patient and the doctor is very complex. The patient wishes to be taken care of with skill and empathy in a safe environment. The surgeon should strive to use the best of his knowledge and skill and also do it in a manner that shows respect, courtesy and, at least, with an element of friendliness. Professionalism should not mean aloofness. If there is one word that summarises the relationship it is trust. The patient needs to trust the doctor to carry out his or her duties to the highest standard with the patient’s best interest at heart. The surgeon needs to trust the patient to be truthful with their disclosures and to be compliant with the pre and postoperative instructions.

Central to the issue of trust is communication. The patient needs to be able to articulate their wishes and wants in a straightforward manner. The surgeon needs to understand the patient’s concerns and then use his or her knowledge to determine whether a particular outcome can be reached. Sometimes a particular outcome may not be achievable. If this is the case the surgeon needs to put the patients best interests first and explain exactly why this outcome will not be achieved. Good communication will therefore play a very important role in the ultimate surgical outcome. Surgeons also need to be direct about shortcomings. A less than optimal result does not mean the procedure has been a failure or that the level of skill is sub optimal.

In many cases a secondary procedure, usually after a one year, may be required. A good to excellent result may then be achieved. If this scenario has been addressed prior to surgery and the patient understands the serial nature of the procedures the relationship is maintained and may even be strengthened. Poor communication prior to surgery offer means that the patient loses trust in the surgeon and the surgeon patient relationship may break down.

If at your initial consultation you are not totally comfortable then seek a second opinion or even a third. Decisions should be taken in the cold light of day and not rushed.