“Talk to patients like you talk to your parents” Is this an effective approach for teaching clinical communication skills?

Is this an effective approach for teaching clinical communication skills?

This is a common assumption held by many medical doctors and educators. It stems from the notion, which is deeply embedded in the culture, that people respect their elders and talk to them politely. This simple approach to doctor-patient communication may be a barrier in improving clinical communication skills in India.

This approach assumes that doctors already have most effective communication skills and this is a barrier to the teaching and learning of more effective skills.

In India, the assumptions like ‘talk to patients like you talk to parents’ has been a useful guideline. However, in itself it doesn’t teach the key skills needed by doctors and which are appreciated by patients. Teaching and learning effective clinical communication skills can help put this age-old maxim into practice.

Over the last 20 years there has been lot of research and significant development in this field globally. In fact, communication skills training is an integral part of doctors training in most other countries. It is a key skill that is learned and assessed in all the examinations required to become clinical specialists.

MCI in its Vision 2015 document highlighted the importance of teaching and learning communication skills – “Be able to communicate adequately, sensitively, effectively and respectfully with patients in a language that the patient understands and in a manner that will improve patient satisfaction and health care outcomes”. (1)

Some of the benefits of having effective communication skills (2):

a) Effective communication improves accuracy, efficiency and supportiveness in the medical consultation

b) Effective communication significantly improves health outcomes for patients

c) Effective communication reduces complaints and improves job satisfaction

d) Effective communication establishes trust-worthy relationships with patients, families and colleagues

Doctors who are getting this training in other countries are already enjoying these benefits. If these benefits are to be accessible to Indian doctors there needs to be openness to learn these new skills and courses, which can teach these skills in an effective way.


1. MCI Vision 2015 booklet

2. Silverman et al: Skills for Communicating with Patients; 3rd Edition, 2013


Leave a comment