10 Worst Things Physicians Say to Patients

JUNE 14, 2016
Ryan Gray, MD
As a physician who works with patients and families all day, you are bound to put your foot in your mouth from time to time. But, even though it is practically inevitable, it is still embarrassing and should be avoided whenever possible.
And, whether delivered intentionally or not, some physician comments are unhelpful at best and low-blows at worst. According to the Physicians Practice website, saying certain things to patients can actually increase your risk of having a malpractice suit filed against you, making it especially important for you to mind your Ps and Qs.
Here is a list of 10 things that doctors should avoid saying to their patients at all costs:
1. Anything in doctor-speak
When doctors start spouting medical jargon, patients typically have one of three reactions:
  • Stop listening
  • Freak out
  • Get confused
When you talk to your patients, be sure to thoroughly explain things in terms that are easy for them to follow. After all, you can’t expect patients to follow advice they don’t understand.
2. Anything snarky, sarcastic or rude
Sure, sarcasm may be used with abandon on your favorite sit-com, but it should be avoided in all patient interactions. Any form of ridicule—perceived or otherwise—is likely to ruin your relationship with the patient, stall their recovery, and potentially result in a formal complaint against you. The data shows that physicians with the best rapport with patients are sued the least. Being rude is an instant rapport wrecker.
3. “Don’t worry about that now"
Minimizing your patient’s concerns is dangerous. If you treat your patients as though their concerns are trivial, they will be unlikely to share important information with you in the future. A lack of trust and disclosure will jeopardize your patient’s safety and your ability to provide effective treatment.
4. Saying anything too quickly
Patients are entitled to your undivided attention, so you should avoid appearing rushed or telling a patient that he or she has limited time with you. Sometimes, it is best to just be quiet to demonstrate that you are really listening. Rushing to respond to patients' questions may cause them to feel like you are cutting them off or talking over them.
5. “Do you understand?”
No one likes to admit that they don’t understand something, so nearly all patients will respond with a “yes” even if they are totally confused. A better approach might be to explain that it is important that you and the patient are on the same page. Then, ask the patient to repeat what they understand of your conversation in their own words. I use the phrase, “tell me in your own words what the next steps are going to be.”

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