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Jazz Improves Physician-Patient Communication

The American Medical News published this week Jazz offers lessons for doctor-patient interaction. This article discusses the use of jazz music to help physicians hone their patient communication skills. Dr. Paul Haidet, president-elect of the American Academy on Communication in Healthcare says”Jazz is all about harmony in communication. When jazz musicians play, they play in a way that goes along with [how] the rest of the band is playing.”

Dr. Haidet and Gary Onady, MD, PhD, an internist and pediatrician, led a session at the annual meeting of the American College of Physicians to educate physicians about using jazz characteristics to improve patient and family communication.

They described a physician’s range of skills within his specialty as his instrument. They compared a patient’s chart with song sheets. The riff, they said, is a physician’s rapid recall of knowledge.

A physician needs to be ready to improvise when he or she walks into an exam room and encounters unexpected aspects of a patient’s illness, Dr. Haidet said.

But once in the room, physicians should not think of themselves as the only person in charge, Dr. Onady said. Rather, he recommends doctors “assign solos,” allowing the patient and others in the room to discuss their concerns one at a time. Doing so makes the patient realize the physician is listening. It also enables the doctor to hear more about symptoms and possible causes and gets a more complete picture of the medical problem or concerns, said Dr. Onady, professor of pediatrics and internal medicine at Wright State University Boonshoft School of Medicine in Dayton, Ohio.

He also urges physicians to pay attention to patients’ body language. For example, if the patient is staring blankly while the physician summarizes medication instructions, it’s time to try a different approach, said Dr. Onady, a jazz musician in the Eddie Brookshire Quintet.

“The doctor needs to think, ‘I’m not harmonizing with the patient. What is it going to take? Am I too technical? Is it my inflection?’”

He acknowledges that physicians’ limited time makes thorough discussions with patients a challenge. But he points to jazz musicians who, when improvising, have to determine very quickly where they are going to take the music. Communicating efficiently in a small amount of time is a learned skill, Dr. Onady said.

Read more on our post on how patients engage more in their own care when they are encouraged to do so by their physician. We welcome your thoughts on physician/patient communication.


Holly Hayes

Holly Hayes Bovio received a Masters in Health Administration (MHA) from Duke University and her undergraduate degree from Southern Methodist University. She holds a certificate in mediation from Texas State.  Holly brings a strong hospital operations background to healthcare mediations including a focus on clinical quality.  Holly managed her own consulting… MORE >

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