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7 Strategies For Better Patient Communication

Healthcare workers should have excellent patient communication skills, given that their importance and necessity. After all, one misunderstanding may cause patients to fail following medical instructions, which may result in complications they and their doctors certainly wouldn’t want to happen.

Unlike medical professionals, patients aren’t experts in the medical field. A doctor or nurse may understand precise, short, and perfectly spoken medical instructions in one go. However, patients may need to hear them in layman’s terms and ask a few clarifying questions.

As health workers, there’s always room for improvement. And remember that it’s not all about your medical skills; you should also improve your communication skills and utilize your communication tools like Relatient, among the many. 

The level of your communication skills should allow your patients, their caregivers, and their family members should feel comfortable enough to talk about their health concerns to you. When your patients engage in a serious conversation with you about their condition, they should have a better outlook of surviving and making it through whatever disease or illness they are going through.

Woman talking with a doctor online using smartphone, feeling bad at home, close-up on phone screen. Concept of telemedicine and patient counseling online

Below are seven strategies you can apply, so you can start to practice better patient communication.

1. Give Undivided Attention For Every Consultation

When you’re having consultations, remember that your patients pay for the time they spend with you, so it’s fair for you to give them your complete attention. Never multitask when a patient is present, and stay away from your phone. If it’s an emergency or far more critical than your current task, politely ask your patient to be excused from your consultation first so you can take the call.

Giving your undivided attention in every consultation is essential to ensure you and your patients understand each other. You can be sure that you always get your message and instructions across. And, whenever your patients have any questions or concerns, you can address those queries precisely and adequately.

Just put yourself in your patient’s shoes. Have you ever been ticked off by someone who was always on their phone while you’re talking? If you practice the same thing, your patients may leave you and look for a different doctor who is more amicable.

2. Include Key People In The Patient Communication

Patient communication becomes ineffective when the doctor solely talks to the patient. If the matter isn’t completely confidential and it’s completely okay to have other members of the household present during the consultation, then include them.

For matters as important as health, it’s better to have more ears present. It’s especially true if the patient is going through a challenging time with their condition. Because of their ailment, you can’t expect them to remember all the instructions you’re giving. Most importantly, family members living in the same household will usually be responsible for helping with patient care, so it makes sense why you should include them in the conversation.

To ascertain that you can include others in your conversation with your patient, you may want to ask your patient questions like the following:

  • Who will help you with the discharge instructions if there are no hospital nurses and caregivers around?
  • Who will be in charge of your overall care at home?
  • Who will accompany you to your hospital appointments and laboratory and diagnostic examinations?

If you can’t have those family members present physically, you can always opt for virtual sessions through digital means to ensure that everyone is included.

3. Assess Your Body Language

As a medical professional, you need to assert confident body language. Your patients are placing their lives in your care. So, it follows that they want assurance that their doctor is, in fact, capable. 

If you show that you’re nervous and unsure, your patients will feel the same way. It won’t help your patients understand what you’re trying to say when they can sense that you feel uncertain.

You can improve your body language through tips like these:

  • Make eye contact with your patients, so they can sense and feel that you’re full of certainty and a confident doctor worthy of trust.
  • Stand up straight. Doing so enables your patients to focus on what you’re doing and saying. It also prevents them from getting distracted.
  • Don’t fidget since your patients will notice it, and it will distract them from what you’re saying. Fidgeting is also one of the signs of nervousness and anxiety, and your patients won’t feel that they’re in good hands with a jumpy doctor.
  • Avoid moving around because it’s distracting. Sit or stand completely still. Remember, your patients want to have a full grasp of what you’re trying to say.

4. Take The Time To Listen

Yes, you’re the medical professional, and you have a lot to say about your diagnosis, the treatment and care plan of your patients, and other related, pertinent matters. But this doesn’t mean that you’re going to monopolize the conversation. After so long of being the one talking and driving the conversation, it’s expected that your patients will tune out. Without you knowing, they may be physically present, but their mind may be elsewhere, henceforth rendering your conversation now ineffective.

Good communication entails having both parties giving and taking. One listens to the other talking, and then there’s an equal exchange of who talks and who listens. Take the time to ask your patients questions as well, so they can speak. And when they do, don’t interrupt them—listen to what they have to say. The more openly your patients can talk to you, the higher the likelihood that you’ll also have a full grasp and history of what your patients are going through and feeling.

5. Include Written Instructions

No matter how smooth and good you may think your conversation flow was, it’s not unusual that by the time your patients get home, they may have forgotten some of your instructions. This possibility is why you must take the time to talk with every patient—don’t ever rush. You should give your patients ample time to grasp the information you’re saying, even if this means they must record or write down every single piece of information you have to say.

As you write the prescription, for instance, it’s also a good idea to include written instructions of the schedule for taking those medications, along with the recommended dosage. Be sure also to write the dates of the subsequent appointments and other diagnostic exams you want to order. By doing so, you can be sure that there’s no confusion regarding all the vital details.

6. Show Your Patients Some Respect

Have you ever dealt with professionally rude people? Unfortunately, there are many of those in the healthcare industry. It’s not just limited to doctors, but even dentists, nurses, caregivers, among the many. Those who don’t show respect to their patients are tarnishing the good reputation that doctors have. As your patients respect you, it’s just but fitting to give your patients that same level of respect.

As much as you can, take the time to accommodate your patients’ requests. If they have any concerns or questions, be patient with answering them. As an expert in the medical field, your patient’s problems may seem minuscule and irrelevant to you. But your patients—people who are nervous about their medical condition and don’t have expertise in the field—may have many concerns they want to be ironed out.

It’s up to medical professionals to help patients maintain their dignity, especially during this challenging time in their life when they may feel that they don’t have control over their bodies and health anymore.

7. Make It Personal

Even if you may have two patients going through the same disease, this doesn’t mean that you should say the same thing to both. Practice patient-centered communication. As much as possible, it would help if you communicated to each patient in such a way that it’s personal. Patient A should know that you’re talking to Patient A, and Patient B should understand that the care plan you have is solely catered for Patient B.

Ask your patient what matters the most to them and what you can do to accommodate their concerns. For instance, you have treatment A and B to offer as choices to your patient. Both treatments possess equal ability to cure your patient. Rather than insist on treatment A, you can make your communication and consultation more personal by offering your patient the choice and giving them an active hand in the decision-making process.

Conclusion

Healthcare workers and patients will inevitably go through a lot of communication. This certainty is evident through the regular checkups and consultations, be it personal or virtual. 

Unfortunately, one misunderstanding may result in a dissatisfied patient. Worse, the patient and their family members may not follow through religiously with the doctor’s instructions. And no one can’t blame them. They may be in a state where they can’t think with clarity. Or the health worker who provided them with the instructions has poor patient communications skills.

You wouldn’t want to be that person. Having better patient communication skills enables you to be heard and understood clearly, reducing unnecessary misunderstandings.