Don’t allow COVID-19 to take the ‘personal touch’ out of care

4 Aug 2020

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Doctor with patient in medical office

For many doctors, the COVID-19 pandemic has for safety reasons, changed the way you communicate with patients.

Social distancing is a new concept for many patients and doctors alike. For many of you, face-to-face conversations are replaced by telephone calls. Whatever the medium, communication and compassion must remain if care is to be delivered with dignity and quality.

Compassion must remain at the core of care

Many General Practitioner’s (GP) are having conversations over the phone rather than in-person. How can you ensure those conversations remain personal and pick up on all-important cues?

As doctors, you will have trained to assess patients and diagnose their condition. Cues can come from verbal communications or body language. As you cannot see over the phone, you must rely on verbal cues only. Is this enough to gather a clear picture of the patient’s concerns? Well, if the right skills are applied, then yes is the answer.

What core skills are necessary for communicating over the phone?

You need to get the patient to disclose information that helps you understand their illness, symptoms, and concerns. Important skills are:

  • Active Listening – listening to understand rather than just listening to reply.
  • Empathy  – understanding the viewpoint of the patient.
  • Open-ended questioning – ask questions that lead to more information giving.
  • Paraphrasing – using different words to say the same thing. This instils in the patient that you understand what they are saying.
  • Summarising – sum up the conversation for clarity, understanding, and to reinforce information. This makes certain you both understand each other and what has been said.

Communicating with your patients over the phone requires a genuine interest in them. People can sense how dedicated you are, how invested you are, and how good your skills at conversing actual are.

When communicating without face-to-face contact, it is important to understand that the principles of effective communication are still relevant. Making the patient feel at ease and trust in you enough to confide in you is essential.


Instil a sense of control and security for the patient

In a time when patients feel a loss of control due to COVID-19, allow them to feel in control of their health and lead you in the conversation, this is achieved by not using forceful, demanding instructions while talking.

Make sure the patient feels safe and secure speaking with you. Assure them of your continued confidentiality and encourage questioning frequently in the conversation.

How to handle difficult conversations over the phone

Having difficult conversations over the phone can prove a challenge, but an empathetic and caring approach will shine through regardless of the platform for communications.

Things to remember when having those difficult talks:

  • Be honest but tactful
  • Be empathetic and understand their needs and concerns
  • Allow them time to ask you questions and don’t rush them
  • Explain things and ask questions to ensure they understand what you have said
  • Be positive where appropriate-if you are calling to cancel their long-awaited surgery, make sure to let them know it will be re-scheduled ASAP
  • Be clear and concise
  • Offer appropriate support


Regardless of the channel, communication is most effective when accompanied by compassion in care settings. Conversations must work over the phone just as well as face-to-face while COVID-19 remains a reality.



04 Aug 2020 | Leave a comment

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