Development of Better Listening Skills by Doctors Could Decrease Medical Malpractice Cases

Listening is a skill that many doctors haven’t mastered. But, according to a new study by Albert Mulley of the Dartmouth Center for Health Care Delivery Science, as doctors learn to listen to patients, the accuracy of their procurement of appropriate diagnostic tests has increased, which helps accurately diagnose a patient’s condition and chose proper treatment, which ultimately, should decrease the number of medical malpractice cases filed. In addition, developing their listening skills can aid doctors in really being able to accurately interpret patients’ preferences for treatment options as well.

In fact, a recent edition of the British Medical Journal, noted that when doctor’s can’t understand how a patient values certain trade-offs when making medical treatment decisions, they are unable to recommend the right treatment and thus, leave themselves open to misunderstanding and possible medical malpractice claims when the wrong option is recommended. For instance, in one study that the British Medical Journal article relied on was determined that Canadian doctors “believed that 71 percent of breast cancer patients rated keeping their breast as a top priority, but only 7 per cent said so.” And, in another study it was determined that “people with dementia placed much less value than doctors believed on continuation of life with severely declining cognitive function.” Obviously, a huge gap in communication between what doctors think they hear and what they really hear is present in these two instances.

How Doctors Can Better Listen to Patients, Gain Positive Outcomes, and Avoid Medical Malpractice

Over a century ago, Canadian Dr. William Osler told aspiring medical students to “listen to the patient: he is telling you the diagnosis.” And unfortunately, one-hundred years later, doctors continue to struggle with listening skill development. According to Dartmouth study, doctors need to attend to three important listening skills to understand patients, learn their patients’ medical treatment preferences, and avoid misdiagnosis.

  1. Doctors should embrace a mindset of medically scientific detachment and resist asking themselves what they might do in the situation of their patient. Patients may place a different value on certain benefits, risks, and side-effects of a procedure or treatment than their doctor, so listening to these distinctions helps doctors know what patients truly want as individuals.
  2. Doctors should never assume that the patient they are developing a treatment program for is the “average” patient. He or she can form a provisional diagnosis based on the data available to present to his or her patient, but should be cautious to listen to the patient’s preference concerning medical options.
  3. Doctors need to take the time to communicate with patients in an effort of shared decision-making. He or she should present all medical options, discuss benefits, risks and side-effects of the options, include non-traditional treatment options, and make sure the patient is properly informed of treatment options before making a decision.

Being attuned to a patient’s individual concerns about treatment and diagnosis and by observing a patients reaction to certain treatment options, doctors put themselves in a better position for a positive outcome for success.

Unfortunately, even the best communication between doctor and patient doesn’t guarantee that medical mistakes aren’t sometimes made. If you have been injured by the negligence of a doctor or other healthcare professional and need legal representation, contact an experienced medical malpractice lawyer for assistance. You don’t deserve to suffer through the financial hardship of caring for a medical malpractice injury alone. Hold that medical professional accountable. Take action for yourself and those who could benefit in the future from your lawsuit.

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