“Your voice is kind and you seem really knowledgeable,” said a patient during a recent video visit for routine care. I felt like I was just doing my job, so his comment struck me as gratuitous; yet, it also affirmed the importance of clear communication by healthcare professionals at an individual level and more broadly. This year, we have experienced significant changes in our global and regional environments, culturally, politically, and interpersonally—with more major shifts on the horizon.
How we interact with patients has changed: remote visits have skyrocketed. How we interact with other professionals has shifted: videoconferencing for meetings and conferences are routine; social media engagement for professional networking and collaboration is commonplace. And how we interact with the general public has shifted: disinformation is widespread, where addressing it in patient-physician interactions and in public messaging and advocacy are becoming a part of our core competencies in professional interpersonal communications.
In this penultimate issue of 2020, Sottile reflects on “losing touch” with patients. Wilhite, et al, describe starting points for institutions to address social determinants of health to overcome inequities exacerbated by COVID-19, while Kuy, et al, provide an overview of communities affected during the pandemic, including children and rural communities. Systemic racism also remains an important aspect of these discussions, as Thomas, et al, explore differences in hypertension control by race among patients in resident and faculty clinics and Sgro offers the second part of a Forum essay collection on racism in medicine. Morales offers us a rapid-fire view of important issues to consider as the U.S. presidential election looms, while SGIM President Jean Kutner and CEO Eric Bass supply updates on the current state of SGIM advocacy and primary care research funding landscapes, respectively.
What we communicate has always been central to our work as physicians and changes in how we communicate call for continued development individually and especially institutionally. As we continue to practice, advocate, and research—and vote!—let’s also remember to listen and compassionately receive and respond to others, especially patients. Even the seemingly smallest affirmations can seed change.