Seeking: a doctor who talks and listens

Anna Kelsey-Sugg

How to recognise doctors who are good communicators - and why it's in your interest to seek them out.

Part of the role of the Return To Work Coordinator is to facilitate good communication between the ill/injured employee, the workplace and the treating doctor. Easier said than done! Here are some points to help recognise a doctor who communicates well, and to explain why it’s worth worrying about.

When an employee sees a doctor with good communication skills, what’s in it for the employer? The following are some of the benefits to be gained:

  • Healthier workforce
  • Fewer clinical visits 
  • Fewer days off work or on light duty with reduced productivity 
  • Improved health outcomes with improved emotional health 
  • Reduced medical costs 
  • Reduced “doctor shopping” 
  • Fewer workers’ compensation complaints
  • More rapid recovery for their employees.

What are signs a doctor is a good communicator? Well, for starters they will have:

  • Increased patient satisfaction
  • Reduced malpractice litigation 
  • Fewer clinical visits and 
  • Improved health outcomes.

What about if you don’t know a good doctor – how can you be sure what to look for when you’re seeking one out? Here’s a checklist:

  • Check communication skills by trying to communicate first with the doctor; if the medical practitioner can communicate well with you they will be able to with your employee.
  • Doctors with good communication skills will be good listeners and should be able to show empathy – the ability to take another's point of view and to project understanding of another's experience. 
  • Speak with the injured worker about how they feel about their relationship with their doctor, and if you know of a doctor with positive health outcomes and high patient satisfaction, you can try recommending the doctor to the employee.
  • Look for high patient satisfaction and good clinical outcomes.

Why bother finding a doctor who communicates well? It’s part of the RTW Coordinator’s responsibility because when there's good communication, everyone benefits. 

  • The patient benefits with better clinical outcomes and improved health.
  • The employer benefits because of reduced medical costs, fewer days off work or on light duty and more rapid recovery for their employees.
  • The physician benefits because the patient compliance, along with work satisfaction, are increased and there are fewer complaints.  

[Some of the information in this article is based on a Return To Work Matters interview with Dr Hari Dhir, Medical Director at Concentra Health Services and Adjunct Associate Clinical Professor of Occupational and Environmental Medicine in the US. Read the full interview in parts one and two.]