Empathetic voice improves doctor-patient communication

05/19/05

Doctors who use an empathetic voice with patients can elicit more information about their health problems and encourage them to stick to their treatment regime, a Monash researcher has found.

Dr. Marisa Cordella, from Monash's School of Languages, Cultures and Linguistics, analysed how doctors and patients talked to each other and found the use of a more empathetic 'fellow human voice' resulted in better treatment practices and more cooperation from patients.

Dr. Cordella found that doctors mainly used three 'voices' when talking to patients: the 'doctor voice' (seeking information), 'educator voice' when seeking to inform and educate the patient about their condition, and the 'fellow human voice' when trying to get patients to talk about their problems.

"More often than not, the doctor and educator voices prevailed, but better results were gained from doctors who had learned how to get patients to talk about themselves and any prior medical treatments and conditions," Dr. Cordella said.

This led to better participation by the patient in the prescribed treatment and, in the longer term, patients became more knowledgeable about their own health and more empowered to seek proper and timely professional advice when symptoms arose.

They were also more likely to undertake preventive measures to maintain their health. The study showed women were better at communicating to doctors than men and were more likely to visit the doctor more frequently.

Dr. Cordella said although the study was undertaken in Spanish-speaking Chile, the findings could apply to any language and culture.

"Looking into the future, both doctors and patients would benefit greatly if doctors were better trained in developing a fellow human voice in dealing with patients,'' she said. "If patients are satisfied, they are more likely to comply because they would understand why a prescription or treatment is given.''

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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 21 Feb 2009
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