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A Changing Profession

Rosa Rios

Imagine the health care system like a heavy dinosaur slowly moving and trying to survive the heat of the technological era. The health care system changes slowly. If the changes occurred faster, there would be no time to adapt to changes, forecast errors, and take the necessary precautions.

To adjust to the new era, the modern health care system must rely on many industries such as pharmaceutical for drugs, engineering for medical devices, social media, marketing, finance, management, transportation, information technology, and especially communication science. ‘‘Communication is the key element for coordination of care’’ I have heard this phrase repeatedly over the past year, not only at school but everywhere in the health care industry.  Although it is not new, communication is an essential skill needed to coordinate and render better care to our population. Implementing these changes in health care has been hard.

The Old Style Medicine

I graduated from medical school in 2012 and do not remember having a single class related to health communication in my entire training. For the past two decades, medical schools select student applicants based on their performance in biology, biochemistry, and other basic sciences. Most applicants are the top of their class, type A personality, overachievers, book savvies, and excellent test takers. You can imagine that this is a very selective group that may have poor communication skills, empathy or charisma.

Of course, there are a few exceptions, but unfortunately until a few years ago, medical schools ranked communication skills very low on the scale for selecting medical students. I acknowledge that medical sciences are an important part of the medical school curriculum. So, what is the problem with this? We need doctors who are good at what they do. A physician’s reputation is represented by their academic performance, scientific research, and professional achievements. Despite vast scientific knowledge, an incredible number of doctors cannot communicate effectively with patients and other providers, contributing to thousands of deaths in medical errors every year.

Currently our population is demanding integrated care, which requires additional skills in patient engagement. Physicians have to improve their communication skills to be able to persuade and engage patients in health and health care. It may take years before we redesign the medical school curriculum nonetheless this may be part of the answer.

A Difficult Transition

Doctors are going through a tough transition. Twenty years ago doctors had all the power in health care, patients did not question reasoning, and technology did not support patient care. Today doctors are sharing the power with patients and insurance companies. Insurance companies have networks of physicians who have the ability to communicate well within the network and follow guidelines. The new system results in more decentralized care.

In the past, patients needed to make an appointment in advance to get flu shots or physicals. Today patients can go anytime to the minute clinic at a local pharmacy. Additionally, less expensive providers and technology are offering services previously only provided by doctors. Consequently, doctors will lose patients if they don’t adapt to changes as they become increasingly interchangeable.

A Changing System

Regardless of the notion that Medicine attracts a particular group of people, the health care system has changed for the better. In addition to scientific knowledge, doctors are required to be team leaders, rationalize their actions, and accept feedback. Modern doctors should have all the skills mentioned above but most importantly they should be excellent communicators with charisma and outstanding bedside manners. I learned that to practice at the top of my license; I need to continue my education, learn how to connect with my patients, become a better listener, an exceptional communicator, and especially become a partner in improving the health of my community.

Also, with this rapidly changing world of medicine, it has become imperative to remain connected with technology. These new changes in medicine require that a physician is no longer a one-way communicator between the patients and themselves. They are now involved in a team and are expected to communicate effectively between, patient, pharmacists, dietitians, counselors and even insurance companies.  With these changes, physicians are entering a new world where skillful communication is not just a tool but also a necessity.