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Most physicians are superb at giving information to their patients. The challenge many have however, is engaging with them. Non-compliance is a major problem in the U.S. One way we can combat it is through better communication between doctor and patient.

During a routine examination with a patient, doctors make recommendations based upon the information gathered during the exam. The patient is then expected to trust what the doctor says and follow the instructions provided with regard to treatment. The part of the dialogue that is often missing is the doctors’ reasoning why the treatment is necessary.

A patient is often not going to comply with their doctors’ recommendations if they do not understand how it will benefit them. Rather than “rocking the boat” and challenging their doctors’ recommendations, they will just ignore them. Research has shown that patients are less likely to ask questions of their doctor for fear of being labeled difficult. Many patients perceive their doctor as “authoritarian” and do not want to question their knowledge and displease them. Patients often find it more important to maintain the doctors’ good will rather than question their knowledge.

The fact of the matter is that patients have a responsibility to ask questions of their doctor. Since many are not comfortable doing this, the doctor should help by engaging with them. Patients should not leave the office feeling like they need to go online to find the answers to the questions they were too afraid to ask. One way doctors can help is by sharing the reasoning for their recommendations and asking the patients open-ended questions about the diagnosis and treatment. It is also important for doctors to find out their patients’ concerns and their viewpoint on the information shared.

Until patients become more comfortable asking questions, it is up to the physician to ensure they understand their recommendations. The doctors with the best communication skills and engagement levels win by having higher compliance and patient satisfaction.