The way you communicate with your patients is often as important as the information you give them. Research shows a strong correlation between a health care provider’s communication skills and patient health outcomes and satisfaction with care. Knowing this, I created a fun mnemonic device for successful approaches I use to COMMUNICATE with patients and their families. See how some of these insights work for you!
Communicate with the patient directly
Acknowledge your patients’ communicative competence by looking them in the eyes and speaking directly to them. Avoid speaking about them to care partners if they’re in the room. No matter what their communication abilities, patients want to feel like an active participant in their own rehabilitation.
Offer support and cues as needed
If you notice the patient experiencing difficulty talking with you, offer assistance and wait for them to accept before helping. Try providing visual cues or using other nonverbal communication strategies to help them develop a sense of autonomy.
Make a real connection
Develop a connection between you and your patients by sitting face-to-face, using a sensitive tone of voice and showing genuine interest in their background and interests. Ask patients about their family, favorite movies or books, and other personal questions. Take a moment to write down some of the answers. People really appreciate when you remember little facts.
Maintain one topic at a time
Don’t confuse your patient by switching conversation topics quickly and without warning. Make sure you keep their full attention by breaking up topics into accessible bits, ordering details in a logical manner and alerting patients to subject changes during conversations.
Use clear, natural speech and simple messages
Explain information in short, simple sentences, using a relaxed speaking rate and gestures to emphasize key points. Avoid acronyms or professional jargon. Pause frequently and rephrase key points to help patients understand and retain important information.
Never make assumptions
Listen to your patients without jumping to conclusions about how they feel or what they can already achieve. Everyone responds to different motivations and has different goals for treatment. Acknowledge each patient’s individual communicative competence.
Involve family members and caregivers
Keep parents, caregivers and other family members involved and informed from beginning to end. If no one else comes with the patient to appointments, offer to call caregivers/family members with updates, procedures, results and recommendations.
Check the patient’s understanding
Notice facial expression and changes in demeanor that could potentially indicate the patient doesn’t fully understand. Clarify information by repeating what you said and writing down important words and concepts. Ask patients to repeat the information to confirm you got your message across.
Ask for clarification
If you’re unsure what the patient is trying to say, repeat what you heard and ask if your interpretation is correct. If not, ask your patient to try explaining it again or in a different way.
Take time to explain and answer questions
Start every new patient session by introducing yourself and the purpose of your visit. Explain all tests, procedures, results and recommendations in simple terms. Don’t rush your patient if they have questions and take time to understand their wants and needs. Be patient, supportive and flexible.
Elicit the patient’s perspective and input
Encourage your patients to express their thoughts and feelings. Empathize with them by acknowledging their emotions and concerns. Involve them in the decision-making process and offer nonjudgmental advice and support. Find out what your patients care about and need from you in terms of their treatment.
Let me know if you try any of the above tips and the results you receive. And please share any client communication guidelines that work for you in the comments section below.
Mandie Oslund is a clinical fellow working in the rehabilitation of acute communication and swallowing disorders of medically complex patients at the University of Tennessee Medical Center in Knoxville. She is an affiliate of ASHA Special Interest Groups 2, Neurogenic Speech and Language Disorders; and 13, Swallowing and Swallowing Disorders (Dysphagia). firstname.lastname@example.org