“There is no greater loan than a sympathetic ear”


James Munro is the CEO of Patient Opinion, a U.K. independent health and social care feedback platform. When people feel heard, they feel better. The aim, based on feedback from patients, was to make the two services as accessible as they could be.

Munro, as a young medical student, was taught that good communication was the key to good health care. A doctor should not simply dictate the proposed course of treatment, but should enter into a discussion with the patient, get them involved in the decision making process and, as a result, build a trusting, respectful relationship.

One of the stories that appeared on the platform illustrates how essential communication skills are in every walk of life.

A patient had written a letter of complaint to the CEO of a hospital in Scotland. He claimed to have experienced appalling treatment in one of the departments. The hospital invited him in to discuss the complaint more fully.

The patient recorded “I got myself into battle mode” prepared for a rather hostile reception and heated argument. But he was pleasantly surprised and happy in the way that the whole meeting was conducted. He continued “The departmental head put me immediately at ease. The doctor said that she had as much time as was necessary to, hopefully, sort out the problem. The consultant admitted that she had investigated the matter and agreed, that this time, the hospital had got things very wrong. As a result, the staff involved would be given extra training and certain structural procedures would be overhauled. I really appreciated her honesty and it left me feeling almost guilty for complaining in the first place!”

What made the meeting so successful was that the doctor listened, and gave him as much time as he felt he needed to restate his complaint. As a result, he felt that his complaint had been properly dealt with, but more importantly, he was seen as a patient and not a problem.

The simple elements of good communication are time, empathy and listening. It was at the heart of this case and is the bedrock on which any trusting compassionate relationship is built.