How to Improve Communication with Patients for Positive Results

Written by Taylor Davis

The hustle and bustle can cost you patients.

That’s the cold hard truth, and one often dismissed because usually the work flow process doesn’t emphasize communication. Why should you care about it then? The way you interact with patients can debilitate relationships and cost you positive outcomes for patient treatments.

Picture this

Option A: Sally comes into the office with a knee problem and she’s written a prescription for pain medication before being sent on her way after 10 minutes and barely having an exam. No explanation of what the medication affects, a quick response, and a focus for her knee. Sounds good, right?

Option B: Sally goes to another office with the same issue. She’s examined at the source of the problem and around the area, the doctor asks her about her daily movements and food habits, creates a treatment plan for a possible injury and sends her home. He explains what he’s doing and why he’s doing it, and provides a list of the medications he’s putting her on with the side effects and purpose. He then asks her if she has questions, provides alternate conditions and treatments, and also gives her advice on how she can counteract the pain – sitting/standing, different shoes, dietary changes etc.. – before checking up with her in a few weeks.

Which clinician would you prefer?

Hope you chose Option B!

The more cohesive approach of Option B allows the patient to feel like they’re being heard, giving you a more accurate understanding of the issue at the root of the problem, and helping you successfully treat your patient.  

Sometimes it’s difficult due to time constraints and pushing from above to get more patients in and out, but what if improving the small steps of communication and preplanning could help? Bring some awareness to your practice by implementing these tips that will help improve communication overall.


Slow Down

Give them more than 5 minutes. The reality is that everyone’s busy, but your patient needs you to be there for them and take some time out of your job to see them. They did the same thing for you to make that appointment. Waiting forever then getting rushed out doesn’t help anyone, often leaves the patient frustrated, and costs you in the end.


Teach Back

Many people don’t speak doctor, so teach them a little along the way. A few ways you can easily do this is by explaining issues in normal/everyday words so they understand, explain why something happens or why you’re doing it, and allow them to voice their questions and concerns.

Give instructions for medication and changes they can make in their daily routine on paper so they can take it home. Explain the purpose of the medication, when and how to properly take them, and the side effects, too.

Don’t forget to stress active communication with your office. They should contact you if something isn’t working given enough time so you can alter the treatment.

Time may be an issue, but fulfilling these issues up front can limit issues rising in the future. Acquire the help of an assistant or fellow colleague to take this on as a part of their process, but don’t put it all off on them.


Don’t Accuse or Assume

Shaming a patient due to lifestyle choices or something they “should’ve” done will cut communication off before you even get started. Your interaction is more than just a single appointment - it's about creating a connection with trust.  Always ensure that a patient understands all of their options, respond to what they want and help them figure out how to achieve the outcomes they want in a simple step-by-step way.

Try to see if from their point of view, and take a second to think of what you’re saying.


Treat Them, Not the Chart

The electronic patient can be tempting to pay attention to, but looking at the patient and examining them will provide clarity. It also opens communication tunnels because the patient may feel more taken care of rather than just talked to and sent on their way.

Offering advice can be a big part of communicating with patients. Providing actionable advice to fix a condition – like if you have a patient with constant back issues – by tweaking lifestyle changes could be more helpful, as long as you keep true to the “don’t accuse or assume” principle. Simply diagnosing, providing a prescription, or fixing the immediate issues doesn’t fix the problem usually. It only masks the symptoms.


Show Them You Care

They’ve come to you in pain or irritated at their condition, so take a second to show them you care. Simply talking to them about subjects like their job or their family can open them up a bit more, and provide better insight into their lives – which you can use when diagnosing.


Get the Whole Picture

Talk to the patient and the family members. Family members who’re there can shed some light on behaviors the patient might not recognize. It will also help you get all the symptoms, even if they don’t seem related.

It may seem difficult at first because you’re changing a habit that’s drilled in during training, but setting a communication standard will help you, your colleagues and your patients work toward the ultimate goal – wellness.  

What are some recommendations you have for office habits in healthcare?