How to Communicate Effectively with Physicians


Physicians often are the final decision-makers when it comes to bedside care. But that doesn’t mean physicians can’t benefit from the expertise of other disciplines, respiratory therapy included. Communicating effectively with physicians, however, can be a challenge.

How can you improve your ability to advise the physicians you work with daily? Why should you invest the effort in doing so? AARC members Vrati Doshi, MSc, RRT, and Cathy Olah, RRT, have a few pointers.

Do your homework

“Bedside RTs are the patient’s advocate,” Doshi said, explaining that RTs often know the full story about their patient. They need to communicate with a physician to ensure the patient receives the best and most appropriate care. Doshi serves as the respiratory programs director at Integrated Respiratory Solutions, a clinical support services company based out of Carol Stream, IL.

Bringing that knowledge requires more than just blurting out what you think. The RT must consider what he or she wants to say before he or she says it.

“It’s important to gather all the facts, build a full picture of the patient, and have a plan/solution to present to a physician,” Doshi said.

She believes therapists who can prove their expertise and demonstrate a real ability to advocate for the patient are much more likely to find the physician receptive to what they have to say.

“The physician needs to be able to hear that you’ve done your research, assessment, and formulated a plan based on facts,” she said.

That doesn’t mean you need to be cold and calculating, though.

Doshi emphasizes you’ll get your ideas across with more success if you show the physician your investment in the patient’s and family’s personal wellbeing as well.

“You have to deliver the information with passion, as if you are advocating for a loved one,” she said.

Respect must be a two-way street

As director of respiratory therapy at MVHS St. Elizabeth Medical Center in Utica, NY, Olah often talks with physicians about communicating with therapists. She says it all comes down to respect, and she emphasizes that respect must go both ways.

“I have had many discussions with physicians who feel they are being talked down to and disrespected,” she said. The key is to approach the physician in the right way and develop a trusting relationship with him or her before you offer your opinions on patient care. Do that, says Olah, and “they will be more willing to take your suggestions and actually seek you out for your advice on a patient.”

How do you build that trusting relationship? Like Doshi, she believes therapists need to dig into the patient’s case to make sure the suggestions they are offering are valid ones.

“Do your research,” Olah said. “By approaching the physician with knowledge about the patient and what their needs are there will be a better chance that appropriate changes to the patient’s treatment plan will be made.”

They’ll be knocking on your door

Communicating clearly, with facts and a caring attitude, will help improve your professional relationship with your physician colleagues. Those physicians will learn to listen to what you have to say. They will also turn to you first when they have questions about the respiratory care their patients receive.