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Getting Communications Right with Patients

Access resources to help you build rapport and empathy with those you serve

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Here at the CPSO, we know that most Ontario physicians want to build strong, healthy, positive relationships with their patients. The problem is that those relationships can struggle or even break down if doctors don’t possess strong communication skills. To help strengthen those abilities, we offer the following resources that all physicians can apply to their practice.


CPSO policies are grounded in the values, principles and duties of medical professionalism articulated in our Practice Guide, and many of our policies touch on issues involving effective communication with patients. Check out the policies listed below that touch on communication issues. To see the full list of CPSO polices, visit our policy main page.

The Doc Talk column from Dialogue

Doc Talk has been a regular feature in our quarterly magazine, Dialogue, for many years. It is an invaluable tool for helping Ontario physicians strengthen their interactions with patients. The list below features some recent Doc Talk columns. To access more back issues of the magazine, visit the Dialogue publication page.

  • Volume 14, Issue 4, 2018: Keeping Cool When Patients Get Hot: Curbing aggression and violence requires de-escalation skills
  • Volume 14, Issue 3, 2018: The Power of Empathy: Dr. Brian Goldman discusses the research he conducted for his new book about empathy.
  • Volume 14, Issue 2, 2018: Civil Service: More respectful conversations at work can spill over into patient outcomes. 
  • Volume 14, Issue 1, 2018: Talking about Elder Abuse: It happens more often than many people imagine. Watch for the signs.
  • Volume 13, Issue 3, 2017: Opining on Opioids: When talking to patients, how do you weigh the risks vs. rewards
  • Volume 13, Issue 2, 2017: Keeping It Confidential on the World’s Biggest Elevator: Patient privacy is paramount when doctors take to social media.
  • Volume 13, Issue 1, 2017: When Values Clash: Bridging the divide if you disagree with patient choices.
  • Volume 12, Issue 4, 2016: Family Histories: To promote better outcomes, explore how health issues interact with the family dynamic.
  • Volume 12, Issue 3, 2016: The Ethics of Communications: Is doctor-patient communications part of medical ethics? “Clearly, it goes beyond the science,” says Dr. Philip Hébert.
  • Volume 12, Issue 2, 2016: Are You Being Heard?: For patients with hearing loss, doctors foster care with clear communications.
  • Volume 12, Issue 1, 2016: For IMGs, a Portal to Understanding: New modules focus on communication and cultural competencies.

Continuing Professional Development (CPD) resources

Lifelong learning and CPD are fundamental to practising medicine competently and ethically. Building rapport with and empathy for patients is something you can learn; it’s a skill you can build upon, improve, and strengthen. You can find a variety of communication-relevant CPD resources on our Communicator Role Resources page, and to learn more about CPD, visit our Continuing Professional Development main page.

Professionalism modules

Our Professionalism and Practice Program provides Ontario’s medical students with essential learning opportunities through in-person and online modules. We also believe that all physicians can benefit from the materials captured in these lessons. Many of them address communication practices, with topics that include boundaries and sexual abuse, medical professionalism, and social media use. Visit our Professionalism and Practice Program page to download these and other modules.

Tips for improving communication with your patients

Here's a recap of the six tips for improving your communication skills.

  1. See patients’ health issues as a narrative to be shared, rather than just an exchange of facts.
  2. Start with open-ended rather than close-ended questions.
  3. Be conscious of cultural differences that may exist between you and your patient.
  4. Avoid medical jargon or abbreviations that your patients would not be reasonably expected to know.
  5. Always explain the dynamic nature of disease.
  6. Be mindful not just of what you’re saying, but how you’re saying it.

Contact us

Having a communications issue with a patient? Email our physician advisors for help, or call 416-967-2606 or 1-800-268-7096, ext. 606.