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February 26, 2020

Being Affable, Available, and Able Is Not Enough: Prioritizing Surgeon-Patient Communication

Author Affiliations
  • 1Department of Surgery, University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics, Iowa City
  • 2Division of Urology, Seattle Children’s Hospital, Seattle, Washington
  • 3Department of Urology, University of Washington, Seattle
JAMA Surg. 2020;155(4):277-278. doi:10.1001/jamasurg.2019.5884

The adage about the 3 A’s of surgical practice—affability, availability, and ability—suggests that being friendly, present, and competent is sufficient for a successful surgical practice. While these are of course important traits, it is clear that patients demand more from surgeons. Effective communication is at the crux of the successful surgeon-patient relationship. While affability can be further defined as ease in talking to others, it is only a small part of effective communication, which includes a distinct skill set. Effective communication skills benefit both clinicians and patients by improving patient understanding and adherence to treatments and are associated with superior clinical outcomes and higher patient and clinician satisfaction.1 Institutions also evaluate their clinicians by using patient-reported measures, which are largely communication based. Most importantly, while it may be difficult for patients to judge our technical skills and medical knowledge, they can certainly evaluate how we, as surgeons, speak with them and make them feel.

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