As a physician, you know that communicating the right information to disclose to your patients at the proper time is critical. Not only does doing so properly cut down on confusion for your patients, it can also reduce informed consent claims against your hospital or practice.

Yet many doctors don't provide their patients with enough information when it comes to crucial safety and risk factors regarding treatment. So how do you determine the difference between providing useful knowledge versus giving out unhelpful information?

Cutting-edge research can help you strike the right balance. Employ these science-based tips:

Use decision aids judiciously.

A study from the Hastings Center found that providing patients with pamphlets, videos and computer program access to comprehend the risks of a medical procedure can often backfire.

This is because patients often lack the knowledge to understand the full scope of the information decision aids provide and may misunderstand key points of the material. If you give a patient decision aid access, follow up to quickly to make sure they understand what they're reading accurately.

Ask your patients what they want to know, especially before surgery.

Research from the University of Melbourne found that informed consent conflict is best avoided when doctors disclose specific risk information before any procedure, but especially surgery — that is, information that a patient directly asks for.

If you have a preconceived notion of what you think your patient wants to know — say, you think they only want to know how long recovery time will be — you may be completely wrong about what his/her concern truly is.

Always state the following clearly: "I'm here to answer any question you have. Tell me what you're wondering about or worried about." This kind of clarity will open up fruitful discussion every time.

Avoid distracting conversation.

A study from the University of Rochester Medical Center found that physicians who disclose information about themselves early in their interactions with a new patient (such as personal details about their families, travel, or political viewpoints) often think this helps them establish a bond.

In reality, that information can disrupt the flow of important information, such as taking up time a patient would like to use to ask specific medical questions. Let your patient take the lead in conveying questions early in your relationship, so you can see how they want to communicate about what matters to them first.

Inform yourself about special protocol.

Research from the Boston University School of Medicinefound that physicians who learn through patient disclosure about an incidence of intimate partner violence (IPV) often don't know how to proceed regarding getting that patient help.

Consult your organization's specific protocol first and foremost. Also, educate yourself about social service resources in advance, such as intervention programs and specializing therapists in your area and refer to that information as you need it.

Observe carefully.

A patient's demeanor, body language and mood will often be your best guide when it comes to knowing the best way to disclose key information sensitively and accurately. Make a point of seeing each patient as a person, not a number — it will improve both your perception and compassion as a doctor.