Am I Getting Through?

Premier Pulse     May 2022

1730166836By Matthew Kramer, MD, medical staff president, Miami Valley Hospital

A surgeon explains the plan for gall bladder surgery to the patient and is later told by the family that the patient “doesn’t know what is going on.” A nurse speaks to the patient about the daily care plan, and the same afternoon, the patient asks, “Why won’t anyone listen to me?” A patient doesn’t keep his post-discharge appointment. Have these scenarios happened to you? They bring up an important question: How effectively do we communicate? Are providers, nurses, allied health personnel, and hospital staff in every field communicating well with patients?

Effective communication is vital in patient care. Numerous studies have demonstrated that communication is a key driver in patient satisfaction scores, and ineffective communication is actually a risk factor that threatens patient safety and health. Missed appointments, poor medication compliance, confusion about the care plan, and mistrust of staff are some issues directly related to poor patient-to-provider communication. So, how can we better connect with our patients to increase our chances of being understood? Here I offer six easy ways to ‘get down’ with your patients:

Sit down. Placing yourself at eye level with the patient has myriad advantages. It eliminates hierarchy and dominance issues, facilitates eye contact, and lessens distance so you are more clearly heard. Sitting also allows you to maintain relaxed body language, which builds rapport and empathy. A large portion of communication is nonverbal!

Slow down. Using a relaxed tone of voice with slow and distinct speech facilitates the patient’s understanding of what is said. Your clear, unhurried message builds trust and allows nervous or frightened patients to focus on the message.

Tone it down. Patients want to be heard. Active listening with open-ended questions, adequate time for responses, and your careful attention help patients feel like they are valued partners in their own care and indicate respect for their situation. Remember, what you consider routine might be a life-threatening experience for them!

Lay it down. Delivering clear, factual information in layman’s terms is key to patients’ understanding. If you must use complex words/phrases, take time to explain them. Stop often to summarize and, if appropriate, involve friends and family to be sure everyone is clear on the care plan.

Write it down. In the event of confusion, simple diagrams and clear, simple written explanations can be the best adjunct for understanding. These aids are especially helpful for family members who were not present at the initial conversation.

Double it down. When concluding, ask for a read-back of understanding and, if you have to, reiterate points that were not clear. Double down on the information, and double down on your empathy. One simple phrase – such as “Is there is anything else I can do for you right now?” – can make all the difference. Try it and see! 

Back to the May 2022 issue of Premier Pulse

Premier Health Logo