How To Improve Communication with Patients

Wondering how to improve communication with patients? Follow along as we discuss everything your need to know when communicating with patients

Whether you’re a pediatrician tasked with keeping young children in good spirits or a geriatrician who needs to put their elderly patients’ minds at ease, effective patient communication is an invaluable skill.

For many people, going to the doctor can be an anxiety-inducing experience, and poor communication can only make matters worse. 

But how do you strengthen your patient communication? 

In this article, we’ll cover how to improve communication with patients in a few actionable tips. From showing you how to hone your verbal skills to teaching you ways to be more empathetic and present, we’ll discuss everything you need to know to make your patients feel comfortable the minute they walk through your doors.

1. Develop Exceptional Verbal Skills

As stated above, going to the physician isn’t always something people look forward to. Good communication is one of the steps of effective patient engagement strategies. Developing high-quality verbal skills is one of the easiest ways to show your patients you care.

That said, developing effective verbal skills involves more than just speaking clearly and confidently. It may also mean using words of positivity and encouragement. 

Let’s look at a few ways to do precisely that.

Choose Words and Phrases That Signal “Togetherness”

Although most patients have a helpful and loving care team of family, friends, health care professionals, and clinicians, it can still feel isolating to navigate the uncertainty of a challenging medical condition. As their primary doctor, it’s essential to speak in a way that elicits a feeling of “togetherness.”

For example, consider the difference between the following sentences:  

  • You need to update your family about next week’s procedure. 
  • We can update your family about next week’s procedure. 

Using collective pronouns such as “we” instead of singular pronouns such as “I” or “you” can help show your patients that you all are in this together.

In addition, consider adding the following words and phrases to your speech:

  • We’ll get through this together
  • I’ll be with you each step of the way.
  • We’re here for you.

Simply letting your patients know that you’re available for them to lean on in moments of doubt or fear is an excellent way to build patient centered communication.

Speak Simply, Yet Confidently

Unless your patients are also doctors, chances are they aren’t fluent in the language of medicine. As a result, they may not understand all of the highly technical aspects of their diagnosis or procedure.

Simplifying medical terminology can help put their minds at ease. However, this doesn’t mean that you should patronize your patients. Explain their diagnosis in a way they can understand without infantilizing them—unless, of course, your patients are children.

Build Rapport Early

Building positive rapport in the early stages of patient communication is an especially important aspect of speaking simply, yet confidently.

If you’re meeting patients for the first time, strengthen healthcare communication immediately by doing the following:

  • State your name
  • Make eye contact
  • Smile warmly
  • Explain your background
  • Go over the agenda for the day’s meeting
  • State what they can expect going forward

A solid rapport is the bedrock upon which the house of communication is built. Without it, communication crumbles.

Say “Thank You”

During most patient-doctor interactions, patients may assume that only they need to express gratitude. After all, they’re the ones seeking your services.

However, doctors should also express gratitude to their patients. This is for the following reasons:

  • Patients ultimately choose you – Unless you’re the preeminent medical expert in your field, you may actually be auditioning alongside other doctors or health care professionals for the right to treat your patients. Patients often get second opinions, making expressions of gratitude for seeking your medical advice very important.
  • Gratitude shows empathy – A simple “thank you for coming in today” shows patients that the healthcare professional knows they’re making a commitment to improving their health. It shows that you understand the work they’re putting in.

If expressing gratitude lets patients know that you care about them at the moment, ending on a visit on a high note lets them know you’ll continue to care.

Instill a Sense of Hope

Depending on their diagnosis, many patients may become overwhelmed by feelings of fear and hopelessness—especially if their medical situation involves many appointments and procedures.

If you sense that may be the case, be sure to end all appointments on a positive note by giving words of encouragement and hope.

Words and phrases such as “you’ve got this” and “you’ll feel even better next time we meet” convey an optimistic tone.

That said, it’s also important to give patients the truth. If a diagnosis is bleak, provide hope, but continue speaking simply and transparently about the situation.

Once you’ve mastered verbal communication, it’s time to think about developing equally effective nonverbal skills.

2. Nurture Nonverbal Skills

As you know, good communication extends beyond verbal speech. Our nonverbal skills also play a prominent role in patient centered communication.

To improve communication with patients, focus on honing the following nonverbal skills.

Listen

In today’s age of near-constant speech, the act of listening seems to be a forgotten skill. However, simply listening is one of the best (and easiest) ways to show your patients your care about them and that you hear them.

To practice good listening skills, consider doing the following:

  • Pay attention to facial expressions – Facial expressions tend to illustrate how a patient is feeling. If the patient looks afraid or anxious when they’re speaking, respond with words of comfort. Conversely, if the patient looks overjoyed, match their excitement with some of your own.
  • Listen actively – Listening can be divided into two categories: active and passive. When you listen passively, it can be challenging to absorb everything the patient is trying to communicate. You may be distracted or disengaged. When you’re actively listening, however, you’re giving the patient your full attention.
  • Keep calm  – It’s not uncommon for a difficult patient to ramble, get angry, or even cry when speaking to their doctor. Instead of stoking the fires of fear or frustration, stay poised and patient. Also, never diminish what a patient is saying. Listen to what they’re saying, acknowledge their concerns, and respond in a way that’s helpful—not harmful. 

Be present

If a healthcare provider is distracted or disengaged when a patient is communicating, they may be less likely to communicate effectively with you in the future. Thus, it’s important to always be physically and mentally present when a patient is communicating.

Illustrate presence by doing the following:

  • Arrive on time for your appointment
  • Turn your body towards your patient
  • Focus entirely on the moment
  • Minimize the potential for distractions
  • Maintain eye contact

Listening and being present are two simple, yet effective, ways to improve communication and patient outcomes.

3. Keep Lines Of Communication Open

While in-person verbal and nonverbal communication skills are essential, sometimes it’s impossible to meet with patients in person. Therefore, keeping lines of communication open is invaluable.

Let’s look at a few ways to improve communication and ensure a positive patient experience even outside of your in-person appointments. 

Outsource Your Inbound Call Center

If you’re a small practice, you may not have a large enough patient base to need a call center. However, if you’re dealing with a larger caseload, a call center may be just what you need to improve communication.

That said, running your own call center involves a lot of work. Outsourcing your inbound call center helps save you money while strengthening your patient communication.

Let’s dive into a few reasons why outsourcing your inbound call center makes a ton of sense:

  • You can be there for your patients whenever they need you – Unless your practice is open at all hours of the day and night, chances are you won’t be able to communicate with patients around the clock. But medical issues don’t only arise during business hours. This is where virtual receptionists come in.

By answering calls 24/7/365, virtual receptionists ensure your patients get the attention they need—when they need it.

  • Manage patient communication with ease – As someone in the medical field, you’re constantly busy. Not only do you have to keep up with patient information, charts, and prescriptions, but you’re also expected to stay on top of administrative duties. Outsourcing your inbound call center can help take managing communication off your plate.

By helping manage your communication, a third-party call center lets you do what’s most important: giving your patients the best treatment possible.

Respond In A Timely Manner

While outsourcing your inbound call center is a clever way to help manage communication, there are a few things you can do to keep lines of communication open.

Responding in a timely manner is chief among these. 

If a patient contacts you when you’re unavailable, make sure to respond via call, text, or email as soon as possible. This lets your patients know that you value them—and that they can feel safe—even when you’re unavailable.

Improve Communication With Nexa

Improving communication with patients is one of the best things you can do to grow your medical practice. That’s because improved communication can lead to greater trust between you and your patients. 

In addition to honing your verbal and nonverbal skills, keeping lines of communication open helps improve patient communication.

Even still, sometimes effective communication requires further expertise.

Cue: Nexa.

A leader in the virtual receptionist industry, Nexa helps strengthen your patient communication, assists with patient intake, and offers seamless workflow integration. Plus, we take pride in offering compassionate, empathetic, HIPAA-compliant services. 

You do a lot for your patients. Let Nexa do a lot for you.

Sources:

Off The Cusp. Are You a Good Listener? 6 Ways to Really Hear Your Patients. https://www.offthecusp.com/good-listener-6-ways-really-hear-patients/

TEAMHealth. Nine ways to improve your patient communications. https://www.teamhealth.com/news-and-resources/featured-article/nine-ways-to-improve-your-patient-communications/?r=1

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