Shifting Toward Patient-Centered Communication

According to a 2021 BMC Nursing study, the value of effective communication in nurse-patient clinical interactions cannot be overemphasized, as “research has shown that communication processes are essential to more accurate patient reporting and disclosure.”

When you consider that life and death decisions hang in the balance, the importance of clear, honest communication takes on ultra-importance. Indeed, the stakes are high.

  • Effective treatment depends on patients feeling safe enough to openly and honestly share with their care providers, so the provider has the relevant information to dispense appropriate treatments.
  • On the flip side, providers must convey instructions, explanations of diagnoses, and treatment options in a way that is clearly understood and coupled with genuine compassion in the pursuit of optimal care.

Communication that effectively conveys crucial information between patient and provider paves the way for best-case-scenario outcomes. Providers must help create an environment where patients are unafraid and empowered to share relevant information and then absorb and digest instruction from the medical team. Focusing on patient-centered communication is crucial for nurses, doctors, and healthcare professionals at every level.

Check out these four strategies that will improve areas of communication and yield a better patient-provider experience.

When meeting a patient for the first time, remember to address them while maintaining eye contact. Simple gestures like this go a long way in establishing rapport and trust.

Communicate from Eye Level

Take the opportunity to sit down and connect with patients at eye level. While this approach won't work in some settings, it can be utilized at many contact points, from the check-in process to the final phase of instructions prior to discharge. Studies show that trust and connections build when patient and doc/nurse/healthcare provider are seated together. In addition, patients experience greater satisfaction and respond with positivity when they experience an eye-level connection.

Practice Active Listening

Being fully committed to practicing active listening can be challenging in hectic settings. But that's when intentionally communicating using your ears, eyes, and a focused mind is most needed. In fact, it's the only way to ensure the information crucial to an accurate diagnosis and treatment plan is obtained.

It's quite simple. When providers are fully present, patient anxiety decreases, allowing rapport and trust to build. Conversely, patient care suffers when a doctor, nurse, or technician appears to be only half-listening, is distracted by other people or situations, or tries to rush through the encounter.

An example of active listening is responding with non-verbal cues, such as a head nod or leaning forward, and making sure your arms are relaxed and at your side (opposed to crossed arms, which is seen as being disengaged or irritated).

Active listening not only strengthens the provider-patient relationship; it can also contribute to a healthcare organization’s ability to achieve best possible outcomes.

Ask Open-ended Questions

Questions that require more than a ”yes or no” answer encourage patients think deeper and to share more details about their current state. For example, asking "Can you tell me where the pain is?" will produce a more helpful response than "Does your leg hurt?" Often, it takes a few questions to get a patient to thoroughly disclose specifics about their situation. Use the attentive/active listening strategies mentioned above to draw the patient into a conversation.

Keep it Simple

When communicating with patients, it's essential to use best practices, such as communicating using “plain language.” This means that providers need to swap out the high-level healthcare terms (jargon and unfamiliar acronyms) for simplified, easy-to-understand words. Technical language and explanations will lose many folks who don't work in the field daily.

Instead, give information in small chunks, pausing throughout to affirm the patient (or their family member) understands. Focus on the treatment plan and ensure the patient feels comfortable asking for more clarification.

Plain language strategies apply to both verbal and written communication. Ensure that any written discharge instructions are understood, especially those involving prescription drugs and dosages. Sentences should be clear and concise, and any visuals should be clearly labeled.

Incorporating a variety of patient-centered communication strategies will help healthcare professionals treat their patients more effectively and efficiently, while also ensuring that patients feel empowered to make informed decisions about their current and future healthcare needs.

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