A qualitative phenomenological study of 15 musculoskeletal patients and their physiotherapists found that patients were better able to express their concerns and outcome expectations when their practitioners utilized a patient-centric, communicative approach during their initial healthcare consultation. When practitioners were well-versed in contemporary pain and pathology theories, they were better able to anticipate and elicit feedback about their patients’ concerns, leading to a more positive dialogue and better patient satisfaction. Practitioners who have developed systems and approaches to encourage proactive communication from their patients about their health concerns were more likely to have positive patient outcomes than those who relied only upon their prior medical expertise in diagnosing and treating their patients.
Purpose of the Study
Recent healthcare approaches have trended away from the strictly traditional biomedical paradigm to include the biopsychosocial approach to patient consultation and treatment. The newer model recognizes the importance of communication in empowering patients to take an active role in their own treatment and encourages them to consider and express their own health agendas, allowing their clinicians to more fully understand and attend to their specific healthcare needs. To develop a true partnership with their patients, healthcare practitioners must be willing to abandon the “doctor knows best” attitude and develop better communication skills that will allow for a patient-clinician treatment collaboration. This study proposed to investigate the relationship between a clinician’s communication technique and skills and how well the patient was able to express healthcare concerns during an initial consultation.
15 musculoskeletal patients and their physiotherapists were interviewed after an initial consultation encounter of between 15 and 20 minutes, which was recorded and later analyzed, utilizing predetermined topic guides, including: presenting problems and symptoms; understanding diagnosis theories, how the patients reacted to referrals, the behavior of the clinician during the consultation, desirable and undesirable treatment activities, fears, concerns, and emotional or social issues related to the patient’s treatment or diagnosis.
Each of the patients involved in the study presented with a range of two to five topics they wanted to discuss with their clinician. The data determined three main themes when it came to important topics of patient-clinician communication during consultations:
Clarity of the patient’s agenda
The first theme identified was how clear or unstructured a patient’s agenda was during their consultation. Some patients had very clear health agendas and were able to communicate their expectations and needs effectively to their clinician. Others were more passive and had more difficulty in communicating their expectations. These patients would have likely benefitted from a practitioner who was better able to create an atmosphere of trust and confidence, which would encourage the patient to discuss their needs.
The need for information and understanding
Patients who had more information about and better understood their health concerns were better at identifying and expressing their expectations and needs during their consultation. The subjects reported being more satisfied with and reassured by their consultation when their clinician took the time to explain and discuss the healthcare issue with them, rather than simply offering a diagnosis and treatment plan. When the clinicians offered evidence-based information regarding their diagnosis and reassurance that their health problem was not due to a serious underlying condition or likely to create too much disruption in their lives, they felt more satisfied with their experience. They were also happier about their consultation when their clinician was able to illicit further information regarding their symptoms and concerns, especially when the patients had neglected to mention these concerns, either through forgetfulness or reluctance to communicate their fears.
Patients in the study reported feeling more supported and engaged when their healthcare provider used a person-centered approach during the interview at their initial consultation. They were better able to trust and have confidence in providers that projected a sense of partnership and were concerned with the social, emotional and physical condition of their patients, rather than treating their dysfunction as a stand-alone concern.
The results of this study emphasize the need for clinicians to create an atmosphere of trust, collaboration, and communication in their patient consultations, rather than relying exclusively on their medical expertise during diagnosis and treatment. By encouraging their patients to more effectively communicate their healthcare concerns, and by creating an atmosphere of collaboration between themselves and their patients, healthcare providers can empower and reassure their patients, which may improve diagnosis, treatment, and healthcare outcomes.
KEYWORDS: Importance of Physician-to-Patient Communication, patient-centric, communicative approach, clinician’s communication technique and skills, desirable and undesirable treatment activities, fears, concerns, emotional or social issues related to the patient’s treatment or diagnosis