Doctor Redefined: The Interpretive Path to Patient Experience

The contemporary definition of “doctor” is changing.

More precisely, doctor, as a title for medical practitioners, is increasingly emphasizing the lesser know Latin origin…meaning “to teach.” Ultimately it’s a patient-physician communications trend with significant benefits to patient satisfaction and experience.

As the nation’s healthcare delivery system has reinvented itself, many of the traditional structures, models and definitions have morphed from “physician centered” to “patient centered.” And with this transition has emerged a new tide of consumerism…with a new breed of informed and proactive patient.

On one hand, most healthcare providers support the concept of patient education, with patients taking a responsible role in their health and healthcare. But the Internet—including the likes of “Doctor Google”—produce patients with too much information and not enough understanding.

Doctor: Interpreter, Guide, Storyteller and Teacher…

Virtually every practicing physician knows to expect patients who present with medical symptoms…hand-in-hand with a computer printout of possible indications, suggested diagnoses, treatment regimens, medications and/or outcomes.

Advances in science and technology—and certainly medical science—are calling on physicians to be the teacher; to interpret information and guide the newly empowered patient/consumer. It’s a redefinition that is arriving slowly in some quarters, and perhaps reluctantly in others. But, for doctors, the role of communicator and storyteller is increasingly a big part of the job.

In addition to care for their health issue, the patient requires an interpretive understanding of what all their new-found information means. Although medical training and years of practical experience have taught physicians about the importance of effective doctor-patient interaction, mastering a deeper level of communications skills is more essential than ever with Internet-educated patients.

Some of the benefits of physician as teacher/communicator include:

  • Aligns mutual aims for treatment and outcomes
  • Enhances likelihood of better compliance
  • Builds rapport and mutual respect
  • Clears the air about (Internet) information that’s applicable (or not)
  • Opens dialogue for understanding of medical options
  • Translates and interprets medical science and technology
  • Positions physician as expert and primary resource
  • Properly shapes patient expectations
  • Sets a positive course for patient experience

Frankly, simplifying the complex is a challenging task for doctors and communications professionals alike. To effectively present high science and technical particulars in easily understood (and non-jargon) language requires training and practice.

If omitted, or done without creating patient understanding, no one benefits. But, as a recent article in Scientific American observes, “Improving communications practices in the sciences and technology is not only sound business; it also serves the general public good.”

“When considering how to improve communications around the sciences we must never forget that language itself is a rarefied form of technology—grammar and punctuation a kind of original programming code,” according to Scientific American.

“Good, clear storytelling…speaks to and fulfills an ancient human need, no matter what it might describe.” And above all, clarity in patient-physician communications greatly enhances patient satisfaction, patient compliance and improved outcomes.

Related Reading: For more on this topic, see Mastering the Art of Healthy Storytelling and Emotional Transportation: How Physicians Can Win Patient Compliance and Improve Outcomes with Purposeful Storytelling.

Lonnie Hirsch


About Lonnie Hirsch

Co-Founder of Healthcare Success Strategies, Lonnie has consulted for over 2,000 health care clients during his 20-year career. Lonnie writes for many healthcare publications, and also has spoken at hundreds of venues nationally. His topics include patient experience, customer service, marketing, branding and business development.

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