Recent studies have shown that medical providers can drastically reduce medical malpractice suits by simply exercising better bedside manner. Bedside manner and the way providers communicate (or fail to communicate) is increasingly being scrutinized as a way to help reform the health care industry in the form of lowering health care costs. These two areas have been often ignored, as the focus has seemingly been fixated on the more expensive and polarizing topics of tort reform and the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.
The Wall Street Journal reported on the efforts of health care providers to improve ways doctors communicate with patients and the impressive effects such a simple and universally accepted effort can have. According to The Wall Street Journal, various studies concluded that breakdowns in doctor-patient communication significantly increase provider costs. The reports estimated that roughly 40 percent of medical malpractice lawsuits allege or stem from some failure in communication. The reason good bedside manner and open communication result in fewer malpractice suits is simple: when physicians do not listen to patients, they miss critical cues and misdiagnose illnesses. Further, poor communication results in patients not understanding physician orders, which results in orders that are not followed after discharge. This leads to lawsuits, return medical visits, increased insurance premiums, etc. -- all of which can be reduced or eliminated by better and more open dialogue with a patient.
Increased costs are not the only symptom of poor medical provider communication. Decreased reimbursement is also a new trend for providers failing to communicate. Last year, Medicare began decreasing reimbursements to hospitals based on patient surveys, where patients rate how well doctors communicate information and the responsiveness of hospital staff. Low scores translate to reduced reimbursements.
Here in Atlanta, the economic realities of better communication have sparked efforts by providers and educators to reevaluate approaches to bedside manner. WellStar implemented new training for all physicians, emphasizing small issues, such as teaching physicians to ask permission to enter rooms and explain what they are doing (and why) throughout the procedure. Similarly, Emory University's revamped curriculum requires communication topics are taught throughout medical school.
These findings really should not be surprising to anyone. Patients typically do not like to sue providers they talk to and have a relationship with, and the chances of a lawsuit are further reduced when the patient feels like they have been made fully aware of the situation, are aware of all of the options, and feel a part of the physician's plan. As we explain to the physician groups we counsel, and as reported in The Wall Street Journal, these simple measures result in better patient outcomes, fewer lawsuits, lower costs, and better reimbursement. Accordingly, no matter how experienced the physician or professional, the new data and regulatory schemes necessitate that providers implement methods to continuously improve communication with patients. This saves lives, which in turn saves dollars and cents.