10 things physicians should never say to patientsConsultant Live’s Physicians Practice asked Jeff Brunken, president of insurer The MGIS Companies, and Sue Larsen, president of Astute Doctor Education, to come up with 10 things physicians should never say to patients. Have you already banished these phrases from your patient interactions, or will you be surprised by how many seem like a reasonable thing to say?

  • “Thanks for bringing this information from the Internet. I think it’s best if you let me diagnose you and tell you the treatment that is most suitable.”

Patients sue doctors who do not take the time to get to know them, who don’t understand their beliefs of desires, or who treat them disrespectfully. Physicians must make an effort to understand the patient’s views and treat them as a partner in treatment decision making.

  • “Do you understand?”

Most patients will answer yes to this question whether or not they understood what you said. No one wants to look ignorant, so don’t put them in the position—you’ll end up with disgruntled patients who are unable to follow your treatment advice. Instead, say, “I’d like to make sure I’ve explained myself clearly, so would you mind explaining in your own words what you understand of our discussion so far?”

  • Statements full of jargon.

Medical jargon like “You have pre-diabetes and a slightly elevated LDL” can easily lead to misinformation and fear (some medical terms sound quite threatening). Avoid medical jargon to ensure you’re not creating barriers between you and your patients.

  • “Let’s not worry about that for now, let’s just focus on getting you better.”

Failure to have meaningful empathetic conversations is a major cause of medical malpractice. Patients must feel their doctor understands their experience and that their concerns are valid. Responses like this one are often received by patients as dismissive and a sign of disrespect.

  • “You need to calm down.”

This type of comment is likely to inflame a difficult situation. Instead, give the patient time to calm down, show him you are taking him seriously, and acknowledge the source of his anger.

  • “I don’t know”

Even though you’re still trying to figure out a diagnosis for the issue your patient brought up, telling them you aren’t sure right away will only place doubt, fear, and panic into their mind. It’s best to use broader general terms such as “we” and mentioning that you need to do further researcher to look into the issue.

  • Statements in a dominant tone.

In a recent book, Malcolm Gladwell pointed to a study of surgeons that found a dominant tone of voice was the single most predictive factor of a surgeon’s likelihood of being sued by patients. If you want patients to respond well to you and your medical advice, don’t speak in a dominant tone.

  • Sarcastic statements.

Humor can go a long way toward building patient rapport, but sarcasm and ridicule have the opposite effect. Even in a situation where a patient has engaged in repetitive destructive behaviors, resist the urge to use sarcasm.

  • “I’m really busy today and running late, so let’s get straight into it.”

Patients deserve your full attention, and telling them that you have limited time is unlikely to be well received. Furthermore, patients who feel rushed may withhold information necessary for care and are likely to withhold questions for fear of wasting your time.

  • “Don’t worry about that. Most patients in your situation feel that way.”

When physicians refer to patient distress as normal, it sends a message that his/her concerns are trivial and prevents disclosure. Patients are less likely to share information with you and more likely to commence medical malpractice litigation.

  • Responses spoken too quickly.

Silence is the simplest way to indicate to patients that you’re listening. Consider waiting an extra two seconds before responding to a patient’s statement to see if they have anything else to say.
Do you find yourself guilty of any of these phrases?

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Last Updated on February 12, 2021