5 Patient Communication Principles That Convey Courtesy and Respect

Little girl and young doctor in hospital having examination

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It’s no revelation that as fellow humans we naturally share a lot of similarities. We look similar, behave similarly, require the same elements to survive, and have a core set of senses and emotions that drive and guide us. Somehow, despite this latter likeness, we can forget that our fellow humans- friends, family, coworkers, customers, and patients desire to be treated with the same courtesy and respect that we want extended to ourselves.

happy family giving flowers to grandmother at parkOur parents taught us well enough to know that our patients and their families deserve respect and courtesy. And while most of us do well to operate in this sense with all our personal interactions, outside forces and stresses can sometimes cloud our sincerity and compassion when it matters most. A showing of genuine respect and courtesy is essential in creating meaningful connections that form the core of a positive patient experience.

As healthcare professionals, we must be ever mindful of principles like the ones described below that impact our patient’s satisfaction. Everything we do as caregivers should show just how much we care about the wellbeing and experience of our patients. By diligently ensuring our connections are personal and memorable, patients feel truly seen, heard, and important. This forms the basis of a patient-provider relationship that will pay dividends to both parties for years and years to come.

Woman talking to doctorStandards of Behavior

When it comes to courtesy and respect, most standards of behavior are basics, but they are easily overlooked if you are not intentional about using them with every patient, every time. Our non-verbal cues and tone of voice communicate much more to our patients than our actual words. Courtesy and respect are conveyed through much more than just the words we say.

Female doctor explaining diagnosis to her female patientEye Contact

To create an environment of courtesy when you’re in the room with a patient, try to make and keep eye contact with your patient. Avoid having conversations while you do other tasks around the room or make notes. It’s fine to talk while you are performing tasks, but when answering a question or discussing their care, grant a patient your full attention.

Furthermore, the use of electronic devices should be limited when in the presence of your patient. Make sure that as soon as you enter the exam room, your eyes are up and focused on the patient and their family, not looking at your notes or tablet. This small, initial interaction sets the tone for the entire visit. When you must make notes or remarks on a device, do so quickly with frequent pauses that continue your care discussion.

medicine, family planning and healthcare concept - senior doctor with tablet pc computer and female patient at womens health clinicPersonal Details

Always address your patients by name. By showing that you have taken the time to learn not only their name and how to pronounce it, you express a great deal of respect.

Additionally, find out more about your patient than just medical history. Ask your patients about their jobs, children, and hobbies. Knowing these small details will not only show interest in your patient, but it will give you useful information as well. My wife was recently told that she might need to stay home from work for six weeks after an upcoming surgery. This would have been useful information if she worked outside the home, but my wife stays home with our children. Had the practitioner asked about how she was employed, this would have probably led to a completely different conversation. This may seem like a small detail, but when it comes to the patient experience, the difference between a good and a great experience is made in the small details. Be intentional about patient communication.

When possible sit near your patient to talk. A National Library of Medicine study found that patients perceived a more positive interaction and a clearer understanding of medical details that were shared when their caregiver simply sat down during their interactions. Sitting while talking also leads patients to believe that their provider was present in the room longer.

Asian woman doctor is online visiting with a patient on the internet application and Listening of the symptoms and explains how to treat the initial disease, Concept of Medical technology.Body Language

It has been shown over and over that body language is very important. When you deal with patients, use what is known as an open body posture: face your patient and don’t cross your arms or turn away.

Also, make sure you are practicing active listening by nodding, agreeing, and using occasional repetitions and questions to show that you are actively engaged in the conversation. Assuring your patients through your body language that you are not only hearing, but listening to them, goes a long way in building confidence and trust.

Two handsome businessman in office sitting at desk and talking
Open Ended Questions

Even the types of questions you ask can lead to more positive interactions and feelings of courtesy and respect. Instead of asking yes or no questions, make sure you ask open-ended questions. Try saying, “Tell me how I can help,” instead of asking, “Do you need any help?” Request information from your patient by saying, “Tell me about the help you have at home,” instead of asking, “Do you have help at home?”

It’s a small difference, but this will not only give you more complete answers from your patient, it also lets them know that you want to know more from them than just simple yes and no answers. In other words, it is another way to demonstrate courtesy and respect.

Remember, while it takes many consistent positive interactions to create a great patient experience, it can take only one bad interaction to create a bad experience.  This may not seem fair, but it’s true. You don’t want that to happen to a patient, and you definitely don’t want to be the person who causes that to happen. Courtesy and respect are essential, but we must be intentional and consistent in how we communicate that to our patients.

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Thank you!

Jerry L. Stone
MedicalGPS, LLC

Originally authored by Matt Dufilho, Updated on December 15, 2021 by Corey Foster

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