A quick survey of your healthcare peers (or even a Google search) will tell you one thing almost certain about the importance of care team communication with patients: most healthcare quality experts agree that improving communication between patients and healthcare staff is the number one factor in improving patient experience. Medical staff communication is essential for providing quality care, reducing errors, increasing patient satisfaction, improving service recovery, and establishing strong patient relationships. Clear, precise, and timely communication is critical to improving health outcomes, decreasing risk, and maximizing overall performance. Our experience and data tell us that there are a handful of best practices that can help improve medical staff communication with patients.
- Think Like and Speak Like a Patient
Throughout each patient encounter, consider the patient’s perspective. Since perspective is often one-sided, it is extremely important to consider alternate viewpoints. Always show empathy and use critical-thinking to access a patient’s situation to find a relatable solution without any medical jargon. Often healthcare professionals forget patients are not fluent in the medical language. Technical terms and abbreviations such as “cath” or “PCI” should be explained in straightforward language that the patient fully comprehends. Failure to do so may cause confusion, frustration, and potentially non-adherence.
- Hone Your Non-Verbal Communication Skills
Little or no eye contact, a posture of crossed arms, or staying fixated on your computer screen are nonverbal ways that loudly communicate a negative tone to those around you. Sometimes we express negative body language without being aware that we are sending the wrong message. Most of us can do a better job of being mindful of our body language, making an asserted effort to display positive body language. 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. Your body language can help build trust and confidence in your patients by demonstrating that you’re truly communicating with them.
- Engage the Patient
Initiate two-way open-ended communication with patients. When asking questions, make sure they are open-ended and not questions with a simple yes and no answer. One of the most powerful tools for creating a connection with a patient is to ask an open-ended question after an introduction or greeting. Whether it is the provider, nurse, or front desk staff, simply engaging the patient in a discussion can create a personal connection, improve patient experience, and potentially disclose helpful information that could assist in treatment.
- Focus on the Patient
Care team members cannot effectively communicate if they are staring at their computer screens, texting on their phones, or thumbing through paperwork. Not only is it inconsiderate, it sends the wrong message that staff is not listening or not interested. Although it may seem like multi-tasking, a simple rule of thumb is to focus on the patient and put aside any other distractions.
- Embrace Patient Feedback
Obtaining real-time patient feedback in any form and then acting on that feedback is an invaluable process that can help increase safety, decrease liability, and improve patient loyalty and retention. Don’t wait until patients are complaining to react. Be proactive and assess continuously by deploying a real-time patient feedback system that provides every patient, after every visit, with an open line of communication. Not only will it equip management with the information needed to make critical decisions it can also be transformative to a practice.