off record
Shaukat Ali Jawaid

Training Healthcare
Professionals in 
Listening Skills


It is almost over thirty years ago that an eminent psychiatrist who had a busy practice came to see me in my office. We discussed few issues related to mental healthcare and the functioning of the mental hospitals in the country. During our conversation he told me that he developed nerve deafness a few years ago and since then, his practice has increased manifold. When I asked him for the reasons, he said that now he cannot hear much. Hence what he has done is that he has employed two competent doctors one of whom has some experience in mental healthcare. I have trained them and they see the patients first, take a detailed history, do clinical examination and basic investigations which are needed, prepare a detailed case note for me and then send the patient to me for consultation.

When the patient comes in, I ask them about the problem and the disease they are suffering from. The patients start talking and I keep on listening. I listen to the patient carefully till he or she has narrated his story, talked about their complaints and fully exhausted. I cannot hear and understand much what the patient has said, but once the patient has finished, I look at the detailed case history prepared for me by my junior colleagues and write the prescription. My patients are extremely grateful to me and while leaving the clinic thank me for listening to them patiently while some of them also complain that they consulted various doctors but none of them have time to listen to them but they are in a hurry to write the prescription.
The above highlights the importance of patient listening to the patients complaints which plays a vital role in patient satisfaction but unfortunately most of the healthcare professionals do not realize its importance. On the contrary it is the quacks and faith healers who listen to the patients and this is how they attract these patients.
Prof. Mahmood Ali Malik an eminent physician and diabetologists who retired as Principal of King Edward Medical College has always emphasized the importance of teaching clinical skills to the medical students. He often says that if you listen to the patient carefully, take detailed history and do appropriate clinical examination, the patient will tell you the diagnosis. It is only in a few cases that one needs sophisticated tests and investigations to confirm the diagnosis.
In the same context, at the recently held Asia Pacific International Conference on Psychosocial Rehabilitation, Prof. Norman Sartorius perhaps the most wise man on mental healthcare today who retired from WHO where he was Chief of the Mental Health Division for over three decades, remarked that healthcare professionals needs to be trained in listening skills. In an interactive session with the young psychiatrists discussing Career in Psychiatry and future perspective, he laid great emphasis that doctors must be patient listener and they need to learn the listening skills. He again reiterated this while speaking at the dinner meeting held at Fountain House the next day. Training of healthcare professionals in” listening skills” again figured during the seminar on Patient Safety and improving quality of care organized by PIMA in collaboration with PharmEvo at Aga Khan University Hospital on November 30th 2013. The idea of narrating all the above is to impress upon the doctors community that they should listen to the patients with utmost attention, give them due respect which will not only improve patients trust in them but also go a long way in improving the quality of healthcare. There is no single answer how one can train the healthcare professionals in listening skills, there could be many ways but the fact remains that it is extremely important, and if they adhere to it, it will improve the doctors image in the public which is not so good these days for various reasons.{jcomments on}

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