Communicating Effectively with Patients
The significance of effective communication to the quality of patient care is immeasurable. The way in which health care providers communicate with their patients may be as important as the actual information being delivered. Patients who grasp what their caregivers are saying are more likely to understand and follow treatment, modify life choices and everyday behaviors, and adhere to follow-up instructions. Patient surveys have demonstrated that poor communication may lead to negative patient outcomes, an increase in a patient’s anxiety levels and feelings of vulnerability and powerlessness.
Where does effective caregiver-patient communication begin? With effective listing.
Caregivers must listen with more than just their ears and brush up on core listening skills. Meeting a patient on his or her level logistically, eliminating physical barriers and maintaining solid eye contact are key. “Being here NOW” is also critical… making sure patients know they have undivided, focused attention will help them feel comfortable enough to express their core concerns and will help to build a solid rapport.
Withholding judgment is also a part of effectual listening. Patients should be encouraged to express themselves and be exempt from interruption or critique. Interest in patients’ comments should be encouraged with “interest statements” such as: “Can you tell me more?” or “How often does this event occur?” Caregivers should also reflect back to the patients their understanding of what has been said, and induce elaboration.
When speaking with patients, caregivers should keep these simple approaches in mind.
- Avoid use of medical jargon. It may demonstrate the caregiver’s knowledge and expertise, but it won’t generate understanding for the patient. Language should be appropriately tailored to fit the audience and situation.
- Cover important information slowly. If time is running short, the patient should be scheduled to return for further explanation or to ask questions.
- Be repetitive if needed. Many patients don’t remember what they are told verbally. Repeating key points and asking whether the patient understands the information will improve recall and follow-up.
- Include a patient’s companion or family member. The old saying “two heads are better than one” can hold true for patient care discussions. Be sure to address questions from the companion with as much attention as if they came directly from the patient.
- Don’t rush through negative information. When speaking about possible side effects or complications, be kind but candid. Complications don’t occur often, but if a patient could suffer from one, it is important he or she know what could happen.
Do you or your organization employ other successful tactics for building effective patient communication? Share your experiences by commenting below.