It is often said that a doctor can say what is ailing the patient by just looking at him. And thats not said without reason. In this short post, we make the case for why nonverbal science plays a vital role in doctor patient communication, as well as different facets of the same.
Two way communication
- Doctors can make greater sense of what the patient is experiencing, by paying attention to the nonverbals. For example, if the patient says that the area the doctor is pointing to does not really evoke pain, but his response suggests otherwise, the doctor would know which one to trust – it is always the nonverbals.
- As regards who rules the communication, the doctor is generally dominant since he has subject expertise and might tend to show more confident or sometimes even aggressive postures. With the knowledge of what would be right postures to display, the doctor can fine-tune his behaviour with the patient.
- However, the above being said, patients also control a part of the conversation since they have the power to hide vital or critical information from the doctor, knowingly or otherwise.
- Gender wise, female patients tend to be more expressive in terms of using their body language to communicate and research shows that both male and female doctors generally tend to be more expressive with female patients since interaction is always two-way and to a large extend dependant on recipient acknowledging what one is saying.
- Certain culture and ethnic backgrounds might permit for a high-touch society. In such setups, patients find it easier to express their pain whereas in societies where expressions are subdued, it might be more difficult for the patients to be outrightly forward.
- Empathy usually means connecting well with your patients and there are lots of nonverbal ways of doing this. Nodding back at the patient, leaning forward, smiling, making good eye contact, to just name a few.
- When patients or people in general are depressed, they tend to be less expressive with their body language, meaning lesser hand gestures, lower pitch variation, fewer eye contact, less smiles and so on both while speaking themselves, as well as while listening to the doctor.
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- Physicians who are more accurate at understanding patients via their nonverbal cues end up having more satisfied clients. Also, these clients or patients tend to obey the doctor’s instructions to a greater degree.
- Doctors need to be aware of changes in their mood and hence their body responses during variations in their working hours, overtime, and so on. This transpires easily onto the staff and also the patients.
Inputs taken from Nonverbal Communication article by Nalini Ambady and Robert Rosenthal
Discussions on placebos and how doctor’s body language can affect the actual recuperation of patients, no matter what the medicine
Most doctors are aware of placebos, and prescribe these from time to time to their patients. How strong can be the affect of the nonverbal behaviour of doctors on the recovery of patients has often been tested in placebo conditions. And the results are shockingly weighed towards the fact that patient recovery is more dependent on the expressions of the doctor prescribing the drugs than the drug or the placebo itself. One of the numerous examples follows:
Two hundred patients with abnormal symptoms, but no signs of any concrete medical diagnosis, were divided randomly into two groups. The patients in our group were told, “I cannot be certain of what the matter is with you”, and two weeks later only 39% got better. The other group were given a firm diagnosis, with no messing about, and confidently told they would be better within a few days. 64% of that group got better in two weeks.”
–Ben Goldacre, Bad Science
Did we inspire you, the doctor, to know more about the subject of body language? Check out our online course, which teaches you both sides of nonverbal communication – how to put across your message in a more communicative manner to the patient, and understand your patient better.
Testimony on Doctor -Patient discussion in the workshop
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