The NHS announced a new training component focused on building communication skills for patient-facing staff including doctors and nurses. The courses involve in-depth education surrounding the importance of discussing challenging topics with patients in a more conversational tone. With the obesity epidemic and other major health concerns soaring across multiple patient groups, the NHS faces undue strain that is difficult to combat without the help of a patient population willing to do their part when it comes to maintaining their own health and well-being.
The announcement comes amid widespread concerns among both patients and NHS leaders that a lack of communication skills is present within the system. Thousands of nurses and doctors are encouraged to take part in the newly-offered course as a way to put patients – and their health – at the top of the NHS priority list. Instead of treating patients as equals, more often than not providers are quick to interrupt and talk down to the individuals who seek out advice and guidance on their specific medical issues. Communication skills are a necessary factor in achieving a well-rounded health system that is beneficial to patients and doctors alike.
The Communication Advantage
According to recent research, one in six patients visiting the NHS stated their experience was less than ideal, pointing to communication as the worst part of their involvement with the health care system. In fact, one study revealed that on average, a doctor interrupted the conversation with a patient just 12 seconds after they started speaking. It can be easily assumed that doctors don’t feel the need to hear out what patients have to say about their own health, despite this being a critical component of providing exceptional health care.
When patients feel as though they are not being heard fully, it is far more likely that they adopt or continue unhealthy lifestyle behavior. Instead of taking on the recommendations to champion their health issues, such as correcting a diet or being more active, patients are quick to dismiss the overbearing suggestions made by medical providers who seem to lack empathy or understanding. Ultimately, this creates a vicious cycle of costly pressure placed on the NHS as patients often have to come back to the provider for additional treatment or advice.
According to a UK-based medical solicitor firm, Patient Claim Line, the need for enhanced communication and listening skills among patient-facing staff within NHS is paramount. Because poor communication is directly correlated to dissatisfied patients who often believe the care they receive is inadequate, the relationship between patient and provider is likely to become or remain strained. The NHS is up against an increased number of costly claims when patients feel as though their voices, including their frustration and concern, are stifled. Education in how to effectively communicate has the opportunity to reduce these issues across the board.
A lack of support from doctors and nursing staff tops the list of complaints among the patient population, driving concerns that the future of the national health care system is bleak at best. Without proper methods to communicate effectively with patients, the potential for serious health issues continues to rise.
The Bottom Line
The costs associated with poor care, whether perceived or real from a patient perspective, is astronomical for the NHS. The NHS Litigation Authority (NHSLA), the organisation which handles claims made against NHS trusts, revealed the massive burden medical negligence claims have on the system, totaling upwards of £1.4bn for 2015. This expense represents a stark increase from the 2008 number, coming in at £583m, and an obvious need for a sustainable solution.
The combination of increased legal costs due to patient claims and a largely untrusting patient population lays a foundation for mass disruption for both providers and patients unless action is taken to course correct. Adding the requirements of communication skills education is a necessary step in the right direction to disarm both issues that currently plague the health system. As doctors and nursing staff learn how to effectively speak with patients about difficult treatment recommendations or necessary lifestyle changes, patients will undoubtedly feel more comfortable implementing the necessary steps to take full control over their health.