A Guide To The Best Practices For Effective Patient Communication

If there’s one activity that significantly affects the everyday lives of individuals, it’s communication. Whether it’s for a personal reason or a professional sanction, good communication is everything.

Surely, you’re no stranger to all the instances when relationships are hampered due to miscommunication. In the medical industry, there should be no room for this.

When it’s the life and health of a patient at stake, that’s even all the more reason for doctors and healthcare professionals to aim for and foster effective communication with their patients. 

As simple as this may sound, effective patient communication is a desired goal that’s easier said than done. Many factors influence and negatively affect patient communication, especially in this day and age where virtual consultations are also becoming the norm.

Because of that, the pressing need to consistently learn and aim for good patient communication is even greater. Even the most seasoned healthcare workers have much to learn in these times. 

So how can you foster and maintain effective communication with patients, despite the challenges you’ll face? A few healthcare professionals have outlined this guide to help you through this process. 

Use A Patient Communication Software 

Technology positively affects multiple industries, with the healthcare sector being one of those. It doesn’t just include the machinery and latest equipment, but even seemingly little matters like those that help with patient communication. 

Mid adult doctor explaining serious patient over digital tablet at hospital

Times are changing for the better, whereby communicating with patients isn’t something that doctors and healthcare workers can do only through traditional means like a text message or a phone call reminder.

Nowadays, there’s something even better brought about by patient communication software. Doctors and other healthcare professionals can and should use patient communication software for efficiency and effectiveness in talking with their patients.

There’s no jumping from one phone to another and manually typing patient appointment schedules and whatnot on the computer, for instance. With the right software, doctors can do all those through that platform.

That way, even busy clinics won’t accidentally miss out on schedule updates, cancellations, or any other patient-related concerns. To that end, choosing the right patient communication software is crucial.

There are many, but not all are good enough, hence the need to narrow down your selections. Some factors can help shape your decision, starting with: 

1. Security And Compliance

It’s very important, so you can be certain your chosen patient communication software complies with the standards to protect patient information. 

2. Integration

It means the data stored on the patient communication software can be connected or integrated smoothly into your file system, so there’s coherence with all your patient data. 

3. Customization

Every clinic and healthcare professional have a different standard or approach to patient communication. It’s why sophisticated patient communication software allows users to tailor their automated text messages and calls according to their respective preferences and needs. 

Along with the factors above, don’t forget to insert your personal preferences. Good patient communication software isn’t just any other one that everyone else has. Rather, it’s the one that ticks the most in the list of considerations for the healthcare worker, who, in turn, is the main user of such software. 

Learn To Be More Attentive 

Doctors, in particular, have to learn to balance out meeting all the patients scheduled for the day while still staying attentive to each one. There should be no rushing each patient, so you can still take note of their concerns accurately.   

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With that, doctors and healthcare workers need to stay focused. It’s easy to be distracted, but when there’s a patient in front of you, your focus should be centered only on the patient. Listen when they’re talking, and talk when they’re done.  

It may sound like an obvious thing to do, but it’s still worth emphasizing anyway. The inability to stay attentive to patients’ concerns can set the wrong foundation for patient communication. Don’t just think about what your next question to your patient is. Rather, give them full rapport and attention when talking.  

Get To Know Your Patient 

As sad as it may sound, there are still those doctors who know nothing more about their patients than their medical history. All conversations are centered only on their condition, diagnosis, and treatment plan.

But there are also those doctors who go above and beyond to get to know their patients more, even with the limited time they spend during each consultation. The premise behind this isn’t to pry on their patients’ privacy or lives.

Rather, it’s to make each doctor’s visits feel less daunting. Open up conversational pieces like their day, their hobbies, and how the children are. Starting up with those ‘lighter’ conversations can help patients feel more comfortable, hopefully encouraging them to open up more to their doctor.  

Assess Your Body Language 

Effective communication isn’t just about the words you say and how you say them but also about body language. You can say kind words, but if your body language says otherwise, a person may still come off as impatient or arrogant, for instance.  

When talking to patients, the best practice is always to maintain eye level with them. If they’re sitting, sit on a chair too. If they’re standing, then get off your chair. Face your patient when speaking. It shows them that your focus is on them and that you aren’t distracted by anything else around you.  

Talk About The Importance Of Support 

Patients should never feel like they always have to be alone when meeting with their doctors. While they can’t bring all ten family members to the doctor’s clinic, this shouldn’t also mean they can’t bring a friend, spouse, partner, or even grown-up kid.

Encourage patients to have a strong support system so, they’re always at ease during your treatment or consultation sessions. Having other individuals with your patient is beneficial not just for the patient themselves but even to the healthcare worker or physician.

It helps ensure all details are discussed, especially when the patient looks mentally distressed about their condition. When stress gets in the way, it’s normal to forget certain things, even those concerning their health issue. 

With someone else in the room, anything the patient may have left out can be tackled so that everything is on the table. It can also help healthcare workers make a better treatment plan for the patient when they know what they’re dealing with. 

To that end, here are some other concrete examples of how a physician can provide adequate support to their patients: 

  • Let them know that you are, and will always be available to help out from the first day of your meeting until the best outcome of their health concern is met; 
  • Ask about any possible barriers they may have to complete the treatment plan you’ve laid out for them; 
  • Help the patient overcome those barriers by offering potential alternatives or solutions you may be aware of. 
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For example, in bullet points above, say a patient who was due for their succeeding treatments has suddenly gone absent without leave (AWOL) and is no longer responsive. If you have time, try to reach out to them privately.

One of the main reasons might be that the patient can no longer afford the treatment they have to go through.  By talking to that patient, you may be able to offer other treatment alternatives that aren’t as costly per session but may take a longer time.

Or, perhaps you’re aware of any charity or local government organization that supports patients like yours, which the patient can approach for help. Because you’ve taken that extra step to communicate by showing your support to your patient, they opened up to you about the real cause.

You’re not left wondering what happened to them, and the patient isn’t left in the dark feeling like they can’t go back to their doctor anymore. Not only does this make a big difference in their care, but it also creates a significant difference in their prognosis. 

Keep It Simple 

Lastly, keep it simple. Not all patients can understand medical jargon. The simpler the words you use, the better. It helps patients relate with you better, where there aren’t any gray areas. 

Remember that there could still be some patients who are too shy to ask questions or speak up. Hence, it’s up to healthcare professionals to speak in such a way they know they’re understood.

Otherwise, your job isn’t done if the patient doesn’t understand what you’re saying. You’ll constantly be faced with situations where patients don’t know their rights and obligations or that they may expect too much from the doctor, all because of a misunderstanding in communication. 

Conclusion 

With all that said, remember that good communication is as crucial to success as your healthcare skills are.

No doctor, no matter how well-trained and knowledgeable they are, can be celebrated if they don’t know how to deal with their patients, particularly regarding communication.

It takes a bit more effort, given that it’s an everyday reality that patients concerned about their health are going through a lot themselves, mentally. More than hearing them out, it’s about listening, paying close attention, and showing empathy to patients.

All these can be achieved on their own accord and through the latest advancements in technology. 

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Barbra Maranda

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