Effective communication with patients is fundamental to good medicine and central to patient satisfaction. It’s also a huge challenge. How can you ensure that your patients give you all of the information you need, clearly understand your directions, and at the same time feel heard, respected, and cared for? Here are five steps you can take to improve patient communication today.
Ask three simple questions
The ICE communication strategy is a great way to simplify patient-centered communication. At the beginning of an appointment, you can quickly establish the patient’s perspective with a question for each component:
Ideas: “What do you think might be going on?”
Concerns: “What’s your biggest worry about this?”
Expectations: “What do you hope I can do to help?
The answers will give you an excellent starting point for open patient-doctor communication. By engaging the patient directly and soliciting their point of view, you empower them to become a part of the solution, and you get priceless insight into how you can improve the patient experience. Practice active listening
It may seem strange, but listening carefully to your patients is only half the battle. It’s also vitally important that patients feel that you are listening to them. Active listening skills are a powerful communication tool. Restate what you’ve heard in your own words: “So you’ve said that you’re having trouble getting enough sleep and are waking up two or three times a night, is that right?” You’ll confirm your understanding, open the door for clarification or more details, and also let the patient know that you’ve heard and understood everything they’ve said to you.
You can also turn the technique around to ensure that your patient retains the information you share with them. Ask them to repeat back to you, but phrase the question so that it doesn’t feel like a test: “I just want to make sure that I’ve done a good job of explaining this to you, because it can be complicated. Can you tell me what changes we’ve decided to make to your medication doses and scheduling?”
Look at your patients
Eye contact is so important, especially in the first 60 seconds of a visit. Don’t look at the chart or your computer screen during conversation. If you can maintain good, friendly eye contact, your patient will know that they have your full attention, and will feel cared for and confident. You can also get a better sense of body language, and respond to any confused or quizzical looks as you explain things to your patient.
Make the most of digital tools
Social media isn’t all about frivolous Facebooking and celebrity tweets. More and more conversations are happening online, and social media is a way to meet many patients where they feel most comfortable. Thoughtfully engaging in digital communication can be a very effective way of reaching out to your patients to provide education and support. You can also gain huge insight into your patients’ experiences. It’s a great avenue to learn about their fears, understand their needs, and find out how they perceive their health care.
Improve your communication with your team
One of the most important things you can do to facilitate patient-doctor communication is to foster healthy and open communication with other clinicians and your staff. We’re all operating under time pressure these days, and in order to give our patients what they need, we need to rely on each other. Nurses, pharmacists, counselors, and even your reception staff are all hugely valuable members of an inter-professional patient care team. By encouraging their efforts, asking for their input, and collaborating with them, we offer our patients much more than we could on our own: more people to listen, more people to care, and more people to deliver an excellent patient experience.