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A variety of issues plagues the UK’s health care system, not the least of which is a rapidly growing number of patients in need of quality care. Staffing shortages and a lack of training also leave NHS patients with quite a bit to be desired when interacting with the system. While each of these glaring concerns threatens to wreak havoc on the future of medical care in the UK, the disconnect in patient and provider communication stands to have an even greater impact. When doctors and nurses lack a full understanding of what’s happening with their patients as a result of patients feeling less than comfortable sharing their true concerns, everyone loses.

Recently, the NHS announced the expansion of a pilot training program meant to combat the communication issues among patients and medical staff. Thousands of doctors and nurses are now encouraged to take part in extensive courses focused on enhancing how they speak – and listen – to their patients, provided at no cost to medical staff. The announcement comes amid rising concerns over the quality of care provided to patients and the pressing need for a revamp of the patient/provider relationship.

Communication is Key

In recent studies, patients were asked to divulge their most significant concerns relating to their experience with the medical community. The majority of individuals listed a lack of communication or poor communication as the top issue, citing overwhelming feelings of not being heard or understood when interacting with medical staff. Ancillary research shows that the way in which providers speak with patients is directly linked to how well those individuals respond to recommendations for care. Not surprisingly, being talked down to or interrupted on a consistent basis leaves much to be desired from the patient perspective, yet this is the norm within the walls of most doctors’ offices.

The recommended communication courses are meant to shore up the discontent among patients by arming doctors and nurses with the tools necessary to speak with their patients in a way that actually affects change. The training focuses on expanding skills such as listening to patient concerns, questioning why patients have struggled to implement advice previously given, and explaining the why and how of treatment plans. In addition, the communication courses offer insight to providers relating to counseling patients when difficult news is passed along, and motivating patients to make the right choices for their overall health and well-being.

Each of these skills is necessary to achieve well-rounded, efficient healthcare that has less potential to end in dissatisfaction or less than helpful treatment recommendations for patients. A representative from UK-based medical solicitor firm, Patient Claim Line, explains that the communication courses now paid for by NHS are a step in the right direction toward enhancing the patient/provider relationship. Lacking communication is the biggest culprit of the perception of poor quality care which ultimately leads to complaints and negligence claims against providers. Even when the recommendations offered to patients are appropriate, individuals who do not receive the information from a sympathetic, caring doctor or nurse are likely to avoid following through. Without question, poor communication between patients and their providers creates a cycle of distrust that is difficult to correct.

Indirect Cost Savings for NHS

The ability to communicate in an effective way has impressive implications for the national healthcare system, especially in terms of reducing the overall cost of care. According to the NHS Litigation Authority, expenses directly related to medical negligence claims topped £1.4bn in 2015 – a stark increase from the £583m spent in 2008. A straight line can be drawn between miscommunication among patients and their providers and complaints of poor care, and without a viable solution, the powers that be predict a steady increase in litigation costs throughout the NHS.

Adding the opportunity to attend in-depth communication training may not seem like the most powerful solution to NHS’ widespread issues, but these courses are a necessary building block of restoring the quality of care provided throughout the healthcare system. As doctors and nurses hone their listening and communication skills and apply those in practice, patients have the chance to better receive and ultimately implement recommendations to better their health for the long term.