If you seek answers, ask questions.

Many of us working in healthcare know that physicians glean an incredible amount of information from patients … if they take the time to ask the questions.

Granted, not every patient will serve as a treasure trove of clinical details; however, many patients welcome the opportunity to talk about themselves regardless of whether it’s to complain about their aches and pains, discuss their clinical histories, or set goals for treatment. It’s during these rich and interactive dialogues that important clinical details are revealed.

Yet many physicians feel that they simply don’t have the time to engage in these conversations. You can’t blame them. Today’s physicians face so many competing demands and initiatives — documentation specificity, publicly-reported outcomes measures, implementation of electronic health records, managing patient portals…the list goes on.

It isn’t easy to focus on patient communication, but it’s certainly possible. I recently met with a medical doctor who seems to have mastered the art. Not only did she provide a thorough clinical exam (which included updating medications in the electronic health record and reviewing recent labs) but she also did one thing that particularly stood out: She talked to me. Questions were both clinical and non-clinical in nature, with my favorite being: “In your heart of hearts, what is it that you truly want?”The question related to a health-related decision I’ve yet to make. I walked away from the appointment feeling both heard and empowered.

During a recent interview for a freelance writing assignment, I spoke with a physician who reiterated the importance of the patient-physician relationship. He said, “Physicians need to gather information completely and then connect emotionally with patients.”

It’s this emotional connection that’s often lacking. If we can somehow get back to an environment in which emotion and communication are priorities, I think we’ll be better off — and probably see better outcomes as well. What do you think?