Doctors Talk, But They Don't Often Communicate

I've posted about this topic before. It seems doctors and their staff are not well trained in the art of eloquence.  They tend to tell us what to do and are missing the gene that requires them to explain.  Case in point, last week my father went in for an MRI of his hip/leg which has been bothering him for several years now.  After arriving home, he was called with an urgent request to drop everything and rush back to the hospital because they found something unrelated that they were concerned about.  No time to say hello, goodbye, you're late, you're late, you're late!! He raced back down there where they did all sorts of tests and told him to stay to talk to the specialist who would tell him what needed to be done and how fast.  My father, at this point, just wanted to go home and asked if he could see the specialist the next day. He was told that was fine, but they wanted to see him "right away." He never did hear from the specialist so he called and was told that the earliest appointment he could get with the specialist was two weeks out.  What happened to "right away?"  Aside from the fact that the office didn't have any of his paperwork, they seemed unconcerned. First they scare him half to death and have him rush down, do not pass go, do not collect $200.  Next, they tell him he HAS to be seen right away.  Then suddenly, it's not so urgent.  We wondered if it wasn't so urgent because they looked at his tests or it wasn't so urgent because they had no idea who he was or what he had.  Either way, it would have been nice if someone had told us (him) and eased his concerns. Aside from the confusion of the communication from the doctor to patient was the confusion that took place each of the MANY times he talked to the doctor's office to straighten this out.  Why is it so difficult for most doctors and doctor's offices to relay proper information to their patients?  When you are dealing with people's health, shouldn't it be a priority to keep them properly informed so that a dire situation doesn't turn deadly and a benign situation doesn't needlessly worry a patient? Now before I get hate mail from people who know a doctor who does take the time and whose staff does do a good job of this, let me say I understand that there are exceptions, but in my experience, many doctors and doctor's offices are in grave need of learning communication skills.  In fact, I read an article several years back where the AMA suggested that doctors and staff learn to communicate well as a way of cutting down on malpractice suits.  It stated that many, if not most, of the lawsuits were filed not because the doctor  messed up someone's treatment, but because they failed to explain things effectively to their patients. In my study, Say What You Mean Every Day, there is a chapter called, "Doctor! Doctor!" where I discuss this very issue.  Visit the product page to learn more about this study and to download our free sample excerpts (link at bottom of page) with a part of that chapter! What's your experience with doctor/patient communication?  Please share your experiences. If you liked this post, please subscribe to our RSS feed and share the link…


  • JoJo

    I would love to get a much wider audience and speak directly to them. Sure! Communication: It saves lives!

  • lisa buffaloe

    Boy is that true, JoJo! During my Lyme Disease battle I visited over twenty doctors. Only a few were good communicators. I’m still scratching my head about a few appointments. Perhaps you could make doctor calls and teach them communication skills. :D

  • JoJo

    You are so right, Cynthia! That’s how it is with many of our relationships. One bad experience of hurried communication can taint an entire relationship sometimes. That’s how deeply important our communication is. I’m so sorry your mom went through all that. My FIL had lung cancer but was diagnosed as a cough for several years until they figured it out. They never bothered to ask some important questions of him and he didn’t know enough about lung cancer to tell him.

  • Cynthia Phillips

    Amazing. my mom had cervical cancer and evidently lung cancer which spread to her brain. Docs never told me what symptoms to look for. I could have had her back in time for them to do something about it. The GYN cancer specialist cured the cervical cancer. But we never were referred to a cancer specialist for the lung cancer just a surgeon. Who always seemed surprised for the year my mom went back for checkups but never said anything except more radiation therapy which is what I’m sure in hindsight spread it to her brain.

    I think part of th e reason they don’t talk any more is because they all depend on testing now and no gut instinct. They have no feeling for anything anymore

    Many other thing happen over the years. Dec 23 soninlaw was hit on his bike by a car the team was great until this last checkup a few weeks ago. they were only supposed to see the same doc someone forgot to note on the door new doc came in and just grabbed his wrist without saying and started turning this way and that and hurt him. never said hardly anything. the original doc stuck his head int eh door said hi and was going to leave and my daughter says wait we have questions. he stayed but clearly didn’t want to. Until that day they loved that doc and the staff. in 10 minutes they blew the whole thing.

  • JoJo

    I understand your frustration. Poor communication can result in a ruined relationship, but in doctor/patient communication, it’s much more serious. I don’t think it’s that most doctors don’t have a heart for their patients, but that they have NO EARTHLY IDEA how to express that. Combined with a lack of communication skills to properly inform or diagnose a patient, this is a deadly combination.

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