Doctor/patient communication in healthcare is the exchange of information between the two parties for evaluating a patient’s health, diagnosing a health condition(s) and treating a health condition(s). The communication is bidirectional in that information is exchanged from doctor to patient and from patient to doctor. The communication can be direct or indirect, depending upon the health literacy, cognitive state and the communicative capacity of the patient.
The communication in healthcare that occurs from doctor to patient includes the exchange of information regarding test results, a recent diagnosis or diagnoses, prognosis and treatment instructions. Patient education to increase a patient’s understanding of test results, a diagnosis or diagnoses, factors determining prognosis and treatment options is also a part of communication in healthcare between doctor and patient.
Communication in healthcare that flows verbally from patient to doctor is the subjective information which a patient provides in order to enable the doctor to perform an adequate health evaluation, make a diagnosis and/or provide appropriate treatment. Subjective information differs from objective information in that it is what the patient feels or perceives with the senses, as opposed to what can be observed or measured. Subjective information consists of symptoms and their relationship to time and factors that bring them on, make them worse, or make them better. Subjective information also includes a description of the symptomatology in relationship to time in terms of onset, duration and changes in severity or relationship to other measurable variables such as physical activity, weight gain or weather conditions.
Objective information is that which is observed and/or measured by a physician. It is obtained by means of a physical examination or diagnostic testing. Although it is not verbal communication in healthcare from patient to doctor, it is a form of communication in that it is what the patient’s body tells the doctor. This nonverbal patient to doctor communication, in turn has a considerable impact on subsequent doctor to patient communication.
An indirect form of communication in healthcare is that between a doctor and a patient proxy because of the inability of the patient to effectively participate in the communication process. Insufficient health literacy is a common cause of the need for proxy communication in healthcare. Other reasons include cognitive deficits related to conditions such as dementia or mental illness, deafness, blindness and muteness.
Patient education is becoming an increasingly important component of communication in healthcare because of the changing healthcare climate which emphasizes patient engagement or getting patients more involved in their healthcare. The patient-education-information exchange can be between doctor and patient or between doctor’s staff and patient. It can be verbal, written, or a combination of the two. With the increasing doctor shortage and the diminishing amount of time doctors can spend with patients, online information provided by a healthcare professional is an effective alternative form of communication which can achieve positive results of increasing health literacy and promoting quality improvement in healthcare.