Positive patient outcomes depend on effective communication, and improving doctor-patient communication begins with developing a deeper understanding of how you currently communicate. This is especially true for medical providers, since they often deal with literal life-and-death situations. But where have we missed the mark in doctor-patient communication?
One-Way Patient Communication
Even when a patient is screened and diagnosed effectively, they may have challenges in finding appropriate health professionals to address those diagnoses. Oftentimes, that’s because people in different silos—or specialties—speak different languages, have unique priorities, and may not be skilled in consciously communicating to others outside their area.
Most medical professionals are very caring and highly capable, yet lack the skills they need to effectively communicate in ways that work for their patients and their patient’s families and caregivers. This is a crucial skill for healthcare workers to have; after all, medical errors contribute to tens if not hundreds of thousands of deaths every year.
It’s not enough for medical providers to spend considerable time and effort preparing reports that are handed off to the next shift, or to a patient and their caregiver. There are many vectors for ineffective communication that can occur at this crucial time. Further complicating matters, in many cases these communications go only one way.
Shift reports prepared for workers in the next shift might not have time to read a report of any length. Or, a caregiver might not understand the materials in the extensive documentation packets they are given. In other words, these people have had words thrown at them with no consideration given to whether they were understood—or grasped.
Shift Change Communication
The patient’s room is the best place to review a report on that patient. This way, the patient and those from the previous shift can ask questions of the outgoing staff, thereby assuring the patient of the continuity of their care.
As we’ve discussed in other blogs, handoff communication is a very important time in patient care. When it fails, there can be devastating consequence. But when a conscious communicator is handing off a patient to the next shift, they aren’t likely to ask yes or no questions. Instead, they’ll ask questions like:
- How often will you check in on Richard?
- Who else is on the schedule to look in on Marjorie this shift?
These are questions that require detailed responses; in these two examples, not only do both providers establish what will happen during the next shift, they are also setting patient expectations for that period of time.
Patient Discharge Communication
Consider patient discharge in a children’s hospital. In many cases, the patient has little understanding of the details of the care they will need. And it’s a very stressful time for the parents and other caregivers for many reasons, not the least of which is their ability to meet their child’s needs once they are back at home.
This is another case where medical providers might throw words at families, either in the form of extensive written details that the parents may or may not grasp, or with ineffective questions like, “Do you think you’ll be able to take care of your child?” There’s no check for whether the caregivers have a clear understanding of what they need to do in either of those scenarios.
With conscious communication, ensuring the parents have grasped the instructions for the child’s care is prioritized over handing them a folder of papers that they either may never read or are unable to understand. This means that the healthcare provider who is self-reflective about their own communication might find themselves wondering if they missed anything or could have done something differently to better support the patient after they leave the hospital.