By Simon Mikail, co-founder and head of operations, 405 Ads.
Providing quality care and achieving better clinical outcomes for patients are two goals that drive most physicians and healthcare providers. Effective communication between patients and healthcare professionals including physicians, nurses, lab technicians, etc. is critically important for achieving these two goals.
Here in this post, we will share with you the top seven tips to improve communication at your healthcare practice:
- Keep It Simple
Using simple, non-medical language can help establish a doctor-patient relationship that leads to better patient outcomes.
Patients are more likely to trust healthcare professionals who use simple language and common vocabulary that everyone can easily understand.
Anyone who interacts with patients at your healthcare practice should be advised to avoid using cryptic jargon including medical abbreviations, terminologies, and scientific terms.
The medical jargon does not help build trust and confidence; on the contrary, it leads to confusion.
- Feedback Loop
When communicating with patients, doctors and other healthcare professionals may take a smile or nod to mean they ‘got the message.’
To make sure patients aren’t disappointed with treatment results in the future or silently doubt recommended treatment regimens, create a feedback loop in order to assess how well a patient understands the information concerning symptoms of a medical condition, doctor’s advice, diagnosis, and treatment options.
A feedback loop helps ensure that patients process the conversation more effectively; it can help bridge the communication gap and improve comprehension.
How you can create a feedback loop to improve communication at your healthcare practice:
- Feedback Loop With Open-ended Questions: These are the questions asked during a medical interview that cannot be answered with a static response, or with a ‘yes,’ or ‘no.’ Open-ended questions can help you to obtain important information and quickly evaluate the degree of a patients’ understanding of the information conveyed during a conversation.
- Feedback Loop with Teach-Back Method: After providing patients with an explanation about the symptoms, condition, precautions, or treatments, you can ask them to ‘teach you back’ what you just said. The teach-back method is helpful especially when you are dealing with patients who are aged and others, who demonstrate a lack of ability to process information conveyed by a doctor or support staff.
- Feedback Loop With the Ask Me 3 Method: Created by health literacy specialists, the ‘Ask Me 3’ method encourages patients and their family members to ask three specific questions from healthcare service providers to better understand their condition and how they can stay healthy. These questions are – 1. ‘What is my main problem?’ 2. ‘What do I need to do?’ 3. ‘Why is it important for me to do this?’
- Train Your Staff
In most healthcare organizations, big or small, fresh recruits participate in a mandatory training program.
Incorporating ‘effective communication’ in such a training program can go a long way in ensuring all your employees understand how to communicate with supervisors and the patients they care for.
For instance, a healthcare professional should know:
- How to ask (patients) clarifying/probing questions to eliminate confusion?
- How to validate a patient’s thoughts and emotions?
- How to be completely nonjudgmental when interacting with patients?
- How to engage in empathetic listening when patients describe their medical condition, medical history, etc.?
- How to read or understand non-verbal signs when instructions or explanations are passed on to a patient?
- How to text or speak on the phone if necessary?
Telling your employees about the importance of communication is not enough. Doctors and managers at your healthcare practice will need to model positive communication behavior to demonstrate how to do it. After all, positive communication is a must-have if you want to enhance patient experience at your practice.
If possible, your organization can also make ‘communication’ a part of employee feedback and evaluation exercise. Rewarding professionals who exhibit positive communication skills at your healthcare practice can help motivate others to do the same.
- Hold Periodic Team Meetings
Make it a point to hold team meetings on a regular basis to identify communication bottlenecks and brainstorm on the possible solutions.
Besides exchanging ideas for improving communication, you can also discuss patient survey feedback to inspire all employees to work towards achieving the shared goal of positive patient-provider communication.
- Have a Protocol in Place to Screen Patients
Doctors are better prepared to deliver quality care if patients are screened for linguistic challenges, communication gaps, cultural or regional biases, treatment preferences, etc.
With a well-defined protocol in place for pre-screening patients, your staff will, for instance, know if an interpreter is required to communicate with a patient who cannot speak or understand English.
Depending upon the nature of healthcare services you offer, location, the linguistic profile of residents in the area, and the kind of patients serve, you may need to devise a unique screening protocol to improve communication at your healthcare practice.
- Use Checklists
Checklists help ensure that nothing is left to chance. A family history checklist, for instance, eliminates ‘guesswork’ from a medical interview.
Healthcare professionals tend to adhere to standard guidelines and follow communication protocols in every situation when they are asked to use checklists.
When your employees need to sign off on every stage, they are more likely to feel accountable to follow the set procedures or methods for patient-provider communication.
- Use Technology
Besides digitizing patient records, scheduling online appointments, and conducting automated surveys, there are numerous other ways you can ‘digitally’ transform your practice. Easy patient-doctor communication is one of the greatest advantages offered by the digital revolution to the healthcare industry.
Therefore, once you devise a set of communication protocols, apply them to all digital communications.
How should a lab technician inform a patient about the test results?
What should a follow-up email to a patient contain?
Ponder upon all such questions to keep up with the evolving etiquette of healthcare communication.