Communication in healthcare between doctors and patients is the exchange of information between the two parties for evaluating a patient’s health. Information obtained during the evaluation is used to diagnose and treat illness. Communication is bidirectional in that information is exchanged from patient to doctor and vice versa. It can be direct or indirect depending on the patient’s ability to communicate.
The information exchange can be about symptoms a patient is experiencing, findings on the physical examination performed by the doctor, test results, interpretation of test results, prognosis, or treatment instructions. Additionally, communication in healthcare from doctor to patient is sometimes educational.
Subjective information is that provided by patients to doctors in a verbal form. It includes symptoms and other relevant facts such as the timing, severity and relationship of symptoms to other factors or symptoms. Subjective information differs from objective information in that it is an expression of what a patient feels or perceives with the senses.
Objective information is that which a physician observes or measures. It might be an abnormality on physical examination such as a skin rash, blood pressure reading, or fever. In addition to physical bodily findings, objective information can be in the form of test results. The results of blood tests, x-rays, EKG and other diagnostic tests are also forms of objective information. Although objective data is not acquired through verbal communication with the patient, it is a form of communication because a patient’s body does the talking through the test results.
Verbal communication in healthcare sometimes has to be indirect because of the inability of a patient to effectively exchange information. In such instances, a patient proxy or substitute is oftentimes an alternative. Poor health literacy is a common cause of the need for this form of communication. Other reasons include a language barrier, mental deficits due to dementia, mental illness, deafness, blindness and muteness.
Patient education is an increasingly important part of communication in healthcare because of healthcare reform which emphasizes patient engagement. The doctor or the doctor’s staff can provide educational information which can be verbal, written, or a combination of both. Communication in healthcare is most educational when patients form questions pertaining to their health, and can obtain answers to those questions.
Because of the increasing doctor shortage and the diminishing amount of time that doctors can spend with patients, online patient education has become a popular and effective alternative. By taking advantage of the many reliable health articles written for patients, it is possible to achieve degrees of health literacy necessary for patient engagement and better healthcare outcomes. Audio and video media are also effective tools for patient education and building health literacy.
The less time physicians have to spend with patient education, the more time they can devote to diagnosing and treating their patients. The more time they can devote to diagnosing and treating their patients, the more likely they are to achieve favorable treatment results.