Malcolm Gladwell, in his bestselling book, Blink- The Power of Thinking Without Thinking, brings evidence to support the impact of effective communication in the medical field.
Medical researcher Wendy Levinson recorded hundreds of surgeon/patient conversations and analyzed the data. Half of the surgeons had never been sued while the other half had been sued at least twice. Based on the recorded conversations, Levinson could accurately predict which surgeons had been sued.
- Surgeons who had never been sued spent more than 3 minutes longer with each patient than those who had been sued (18.3 minutes versus 15 minutes).
- Surgeons who had never been sued used more “orienting” comments, such as “First I’ll examine you, and then we will talk the problem over”- giving patients a sense of understanding about what the visit was supposed to accomplish and when they could ask questions.
- Surgeons who had never been sued engaged in active listening, using phrases such as “go on, tell me more about that”.
- Surgeons who had never been sued were more likely to laugh and be funny during a visit.
These four skills prevent legal trouble by focusing not only on the health issue, but the person. While many doctors fall into the trap of treating patients like a puzzle rather than a person (Dr. House being the most notorious example), those who engage in positive communication and listening techniques create a sense of loyalty that deters patients from taking legal action in the event of a medical mistake.
Furthermore, patients are more likely to recommend a doctor with whom they formed a relationship, thus making effective communication a smart business move.
The cold, calculating business of medicine benefits from the warmth of genuine human connection.