Listening Matters: Your Health Depends on It

Posted by Ann Deaton Share Your Voice

Patient-Physician Partnerships are Key to Good Health

Three decades ago, I wrote a dissertation on what I called "adaptive noncompliance.” My research was on how parents managed the complexities of caring for their children with asthma. What I discovered was that many parents chose not to follow physician advice, a behavior described as “noncompliance.” However, most of these parents were not haphazard in their decision-making; they were adaptive. This was evident because the higher quality decisions these parents made, the better their children’s health outcomes. In my research, successful parents listened to both their children, and to their children’s physicians. They maintained trusting partnerships with both. Those partnerships enabled them to understand the intention of physician prescriptions and recommendations, and to weigh the medical regimen against not only health outcomes, but quality of life, for their children. Adaptive noncompliance was a win-win, especially when these parents had the opportunity to communicate back to their physicians how they’d modified the regimen, thereby enabling the physician to learn and improve along the way.

Fast forward to 2017, and we continue to be reminded of the importance of strong partnerships between healthcare provider and patient. This reminder comes at a time when anxiety about health care costs is high in the United States, and trust in the system is frequently low. Patients worry not just about medical diagnoses or treatments, but about how their care will be paid for, and whether they’ll face bankruptcy if something is seriously wrong. Will they be able to purchase a health care plan at a cost they can afford, or will that opportunity be sacrificed for the sake of budgetary issues, at a personal and a national level?

At the same time as the economic climate threatens health care, the demands on individual healthcare providers are equally troublesome. The more that insurers and practice managers induce physicians to see more patients, the less time these doctors have available to listen to their patients. As a persuasive article in Harvard Business Review notes, listening is one of the best tools physicians have for successfully understanding what patients are experiencing, and providing the holistic care they require.

As the article states: "A doctor’s medical toolbox and supply of best-practice guidelines... do not address a patient’s fears, grief over a diagnosis, practical issues of access to care, or reliability of their social support system. Overlooking these realities is perilous, both for the patient’s well-being and for efficient delivery of care." (Awdish & Berry, 2017). Not only should a healthcare provider partner with his/her patients in decision making; they must also build relationships with their patients. The result: better health outcomes, job satisfaction for health care providers, and positive economic impact. So called soft skills matter.


Awdish, R.L.A., & Berry, L.L. (Oct. 9, 2017). Making Time to Really Listen to Your Patients.

Deaton A.V. (1985) Adaptive Noncompliance in Pediatric Asthma: The Parent as Expert. Journal of Pediatric Psychology, 10 (1), 1-14.

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Small Ann Deaton I am a leadership coach, and Managing Partner in Bounce. I love to coach and facilitate with individuals and systems experiencing significant change and growth. The clients I work with, regardless of their age or position, are talented and creative individuals willing to look with fresh eyes at their challenges and opportunities, and to take action based on their discoveries. As a result, they find that they are capable of accomplishing far greater things than they ever imagined. What do you want to accomplish today? Who do you want to be?


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