December 2001 Bulletin

Communications build trust

When time counts, the quality of interaction is vital

The following is an AAOS Advisory Statement on The Importance of Good Communication in the Physician-Patient Relationship.

Good communication with patients has always been essential in orthopaedic practice. It is the "cornerstone" of the physician-patient relationship. Open, honest communication builds trust and promotes healing. It favorably impacts patient behavior, health outcomes, patient satisfaction and often reduces the incidence of malpractice actions. For physicians, good communication with patients can also increase professional satisfaction, enhance community image, and provide a competitive economic advantage for the medical practice.

Increasing demands on orthopaedic surgeons in today’s healthcare environment often leave less time to provide care to a greater number of patients. While time constraints can make it difficult to communicate as effectively as one would like, the quality of time spent with the patient remains very important. For this reason, effective patient-focused communication skills are essential. They can be applied quickly and effectively within the normal patient encounter.

The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons and the American Association of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS) urge orthopaedic surgeons to use patient-focused communication skills during their direct patient encounters. These include:

When time counts, it is the quality and not necessarily the quantity of physician-patient communication that is vital. To the patient, quality is often measured by how well the physician listens and acknowledges patient concerns. It is measured by how thoroughly the physician explains the diagnosis and treatment options, and how well the physician involves the patient in decisions concerning his or her care. These factors play an important part in the way patients perceive, recall, and evaluate their visits with the physician.

AAOS believes that orthopaedic surgeons must place an emphasis on good communication with patients and the quality of the interaction, especially when time is limited.

Good communication between the orthopaedic surgeon and patient can be an effective risk management tool. While poor treatment outcome is one of the primary causes of malpractice actions, poor communication is also a factor in a majority of cases. Patients who sue often cite the failure of physicians to listen or the physician’s unwillingness to answer questions. Patients who are well informed about treatment options, the course of care, expected outcomes, and possible complications are more satisfied patients, and are less likely to file malpractice claims.

AAOS urges orthopaedic surgeons to provide information and education to their patients about treatment alternatives, and the course of care, especially expectations for surgical outcomes. Discussing the risks of surgery and possible complications, in a kind and compassionate manner, can create realistic expectations on the part of the patient, increase patient satisfaction, and minimize the risk of malpractice claims.

December 2000

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