“Each patient carries his own doctor inside him” — Norman Cousins, Anatomy of an Illness
At some time in our life, we all worry about our health, or we worry about the health of those who we love. What if I told you that there was an underutilized special procedure would improve the nature of the health care that you, or someone you love, received? Wouldn't you want that? That same special procedure would also assist the health care professional in the practice of medicine, and we know that they most desire strong and good outcomes when working with patients.
The special procedure is, simply stated, the interpersonal communication between the patient and the health care professionals with whom they interact. All too often, patients fail to communicate their concerns, circumstances and feelings to the professional, and at the same time , professionals can become lost in the maze of electronic recordkeeping performance metrics and forget to see the patient as an individual.
Patient Respect & Dignity
As reported in the February 2015 edition of “Hospital Safety” magazine, surveys indicate that there is a strong correlation between respectful treatment and patient safety (outcomes). When respect is lacking, the patient may be reluctant to speak up and ask appropriate questions. When respect is lacking, it may mean that the health care professional’s attention is turned elsewhere. This divided attention can lead to mistakes.
What should be done? Here are 7 communication recommendations for health professionals to drive better patient outcomes
- Clarify the use of medical terminology, keeping in mind that medicine is very complicated and patients aren't knowledgeable. Confusing terminology can go over the head of patients and deny them the chance to interact.
- Be courteous. In social situations, we introduce ourselves to new acquaintances. Yet, the number of health professionals who zoom into see a patient and never give a proper greeting or introduction can make a patient feel isolated.
- Listen without interruption. When a patient is listened to, the professional can address concerns, clarify instructions, or simply offer support.
- Watch the body language. Eye contact is hard to make when the professional is staring at a laptop or tablet screen. Constricted body posture, again due to holding a laptop or tablet in hand, can also make the professional seem less open and approachable. Towering over sitting patient can also create an impression of dominance of the professional over the patient, so consideration in this area may also help connectivity between the two parties.
- The more the merrier. Frequently the patient is confused or unable to interact properly with the health professional. In a case like this, having a family member or friend present may be beneficial to the communication process.
- Patients must be courteous and respectful towards the health professionals. Trying to establish a personal connection with the professional by relating something other than “just the facts” may help.
- Patients must point out mistakes, ask questions and communicate clearly, or have someone communicate clearly for them.
When you review the list above, it is clear that these are all straight-forward communication issues. Patient engagement is the key to a better healthcare experience for both patient and provider, and the key to engagement is communication.