Doctor Lifestyle

10 Tips to Communicate with Your Patients Better

10 Tips to Communicate with Your Patients Better

Effective communication is vital to delivering quality care and building solid doctor patient relationships based on mutual trust and respect. Without clear communication, the patient may not understand or misunderstand your instructions. In fact, as many as half of your patients will forget what you said or will not correctly follow your instructions because of forgetfulness. This, in turn, can result in medical errors, additional follow-up visits, and failure to accept necessary treatment. Ultimately, the goal of your appointment is to make sure the patient understands your instructions and that what you say really sticks. The information you share with them will hopefully help them to acknowledge their health problem, understand their treatment options, follow medication schedules, as well as improve their own health outcome. After all, as a healthcare professional, isn’t that what you want? To ensure better health outcomes for your patients?

Communication methods can make or break any practice. Believe it or not, research shows that effective doctor communication can improve a patient’s health to a degree as several medications can. Therefore, accurate, reliable, and timely communication is essential to ensuring patient safety, improving patient outcomes, increasing patient satisfaction, as well as maximizing performance. Below are 10 tips on how you can communicate better with your patients:
1. Smile and make eye contact – When you are meeting a patient for their initial appointment, remember to smile, shake their hand, and make eye contact. The eyes never lie. If you fail to look directly at the patient, this can indicate a lack of interest. Though a doctor’s appointment is relatively short (around 15-20 minutes), eye contact and a smile can go a long way in earning a patient’s trust.
2. Establish a connection – When it comes to establishing a healthy connection with a patient, good communication is key. This applies to the doctor patient relationship as well. Sit down facing your patient to help establish a psychological connection between the two of you. This can put them more at ease of opening up and sharing valuable information with you.
3. Ask open-ended questions – Your professional training has highlighted the importance of doctor patient communication. This means that what you say to a patient can have an immense impact on their health outcomes. Instead of asking questions that require a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’ response, ask the patient open-ended questions that reflect their current health status and symptoms, as well as address their concerns.
4. Use patient-friendly language – A patient may have trouble understanding health-related information and medical terminology that most doctors, such as you, use. They should not have to use Google to simplify what you have told them. Therefore, remember to use patient-friendly language - for instance, instead of saying ‘myocardial infarction’, you can say ‘heart attack’.
5. Evaluate patients’ literateness – A patient’s understanding comprises of evaluating their language and educational limitations. If there is a language barrier, speak slowly and use non-medical terminology in order to improve comprehension and adherence on certain health-related topics. Moreover, be patient and aware of your tone. When speaking with a patient, think about your word choices, tone, and volume.
6. Be honest – When it comes to visiting a doctor, most patients may feel anxious and uneasy but they come to you because as a health expert, they value what you have to say. If you do not have an answer to a patient’s question, tell them that you will do further research and let them know instead of making up information. Patients respond to honesty - if you are honest with them, they are more likely to trust you and follow your recommendations.
7. Discuss and clarify everything – Discuss and clarify everything to a patient – the who, what, when, where, why, and how. How the appointment will progress, what medications they may need to take and why, what their treatment options are and what each treatment entails, how it will help, and more. Moreover, ask for their permission and whether what you will be doing is OK with them.
8. Use visual aids – When speaking with a patient, it can be helpful to use visual aids to clarify any questions, concerns, or misunderstandings. Digital images, videos, and diagrams are great examples of tools to use to show a patient the anatomy. Such visual aids can help you to not only show them, but also explain to them in simple terms what is wrong with their own anatomy and what can be done.
9. Implement the teach-back method – If you ask a patient whether they understand your explanation or instructions, they may answer with a ‘yes’ even though they may not understand. For this reason, implement the teach-back method where you ask the patient to repeat back to you what you have told them. By listening to what they have processed, you can tell whether they truly understand or whether you need to go over the information once again – perhaps using a different approach this time around.
10. Show interest and use their name – It is both polite and professional to call a patient by their name. If you want to build solid doctor patient relationships, you need to show interest in their life. For instance, jot down the patient’s hobbies, names of family members they have mentioned, etc. and mention them during their next appointment. They will greatly appreciate the little things that you have remembered and this will show your caring nature.

 Extra tip: Understand the difference between empathic and apologetic communication – Every patient is unique and has a different understanding of certain matters. Some health-related outcomes may affect a patient both emotionally and physically. Therefore, you need to understand the difference between empathetic and apologetic communication. Empathic communication does not mean apologizing to the patient, but rather recognizing and understanding the psychological aspects of the outcome that have impacted their physical and mental well-being. After an adverse event, empathic communication with a patient can help solidify the doctor patient relationship.

“To be a good physician, you need to be a good teacher. There is an art to breaking down all the complexities of medical science into something that a third-grader can understand. There is also an art to modifying your explanation depending on the patient” wrote an anonymous medical resident who blogs at A Medical Resident’s Journey. For instance, every individual knows the medical term heart attack; however, a few understand what it actually means. Instead of using medical jargon, it is important to break down the main points: that the heart contains three main vessels where blood supply flows through and if one of the vessels becomes blocked, the heart will not be able to receive enough oxygen. This, in turn, can cause the heart tissue to deteriorate. Simple explanations are always best and you can even take into consideration the patient’s profession when striving to explain a medical condition. For example, artists express their work through painting and when talking with them about the heart and the circulatory system, perhaps using visual aids or drawing images could help them to understand the information they are given much better.

This being said, while there are several different ways to communicate and explain a medical condition to a patient, your job is to assess the patient’s own level of understanding and build on their interest. Even when he or she does not ask questions, such as why they need take a certain medication or what are the side effects of the medication, you need to be aware and reply to these questions anyhow. Using visual aids and non-medical language may not be so simple, due to each patient’s different perspective of comprehensiveness; however, one thing is guaranteed – it will put you both on the same page when it comes to making better-informed decisions.