Communicating Effectively With Patients

Patient education is a crucial component of effective healthcare. Medical professionals are responsible for informing patients how to lead healthier lives and explain diagnoses, medications, and treatments. However, this important medical information may get lost in translation if there is too much medical jargon. Effective communication is a two-way street, and it is equally harmful if a patient is unable or unwilling to communicate back to you.

Medical professionals spend years in training learning how to heal and treat patients - but all that expert medical knowledge can actually hinder effective communication between provider and patient if the healthcare professional is unable to communicate scientific information in terms that the layperson understands. Communicating effectively with your patients can be tricky but it is a necessary skill to master in order to maximize positive health outcomes.

Here are eight easy ways that you can effectively improve communication between you and your patients:

1. Listen first and don't interrupt. Let the patient tell his or her story and allow them time to find the right words to explain their symptoms or recall medical history. Studies have shown that on average, physicians will interrupt their patients within 23 seconds of the beginning of the discourse. Listen carefully and pay attention to non-verbal cues as well.

2. The average comprehension level of the U.S. population is between that of a sixth grader and an eighth grader. A good rule of thumb is that when explaining medical knowledge to a patient, avoid using medical jargon and anatomical terms and speak in such a language that a sixth grader would be able to understand. Think about what you want to communicate and translate it in your mind to use simple English instead of complication medical terms.

3. Humans are highly visual learners - in many cases having a medical diagram on hand to supplement your verbal communication will give your patient a more comprehensive grasp of the knowledge you are trying to explain.

4. Don't talk too fast. This may sound like a no brainer, but it is important for you to take the time to explain important information very slowly and don't rush through negative information just because it is unpleasant. If you are running short on time and have to rush to your next appointment, schedule a follow-up appointment with them for you to thoroughly go over important information together.

5. Be wary of your body language. Small details as simple as not making eye contact with your patient can damage the rapport between you and your patient. This can harm the trust that your patient has in you, or cause them to subconsciously shut down and lose interest in paying attention, or both.

6. Make sure the patient is engaged. This is the best way to make sure that your patient not only understands the information you are telling them, but that they remember it for a longer period of time. Have your patients parrot back to you the things that they understand, and ask questions about what they don't.

7. When it comes to ensuring that your patient is communicating effectively with you regarding their medical history and health habits outside of their visits to the doctor, ask a variety of open-ended questions. Asking a patient questions such as "how do you spend a normal day?" or "what are your biggest priorities in your life?" engages your patient and gives them a reason to be more forthcoming with you about health-related information.

8. Follow through with your patients' education. Before they leave the appointment, give them one last opportunity to ask you any remaining questions. Let your staff know what you have ordered for the patient and inform them of what needs to be done on their end.

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