Regardless of your healthcare discipline, you understand that the key to your patients’ progress is actually in their own hands. That is why gathering valuable feedback during every patient encounter is paramount to helping them achieve the best health outcomes over time. Here are five patient-centered communication approach methods that will help you gather valuable feedback from your patients.
(1) Communicate physically as well as verbally.
In patient-centered communication, the goal is to understand the person behind the medical problem so as to gather better feedback that aids in treating the patient more effectively. Since most communication is non-verbal, physicality, eye contact, and demeanor are all important.
First, avoid barriers like desks and tables between you and the patient. Smile, make eye contact, and speak in a calm, pleasant, consistent tone of voice. Make sure to physically face them to show that all of your attention is on them. To the best of your ability, keep you body at the same level as your patient’s. Standing over them while they’re sitting can make them feel uncomfortable.
(2) Ask open-ended questions.
Open-ended questions are a key part of obtaining valuable feedback from the patient. That being said, you need to be careful never to start an encounter by asking how they are today as it puts the patient in the position of responding with “fine’ even when they are not. Rather, it’s best to ask “how can I help you today?” This empowers the patient to define the conversation. It’s imperative that you give them time to finish replying and stay engaged physically as well as through eye contact and occasionally nodding that you understand.
Save any questions that you have for when they have finished as they will often tell you most of what you need to know within two minutes. At this point use the words of the patient to flesh out more information. For instance, “tell me more about…”
(3) Acknowledge patient emotions.
It’s important to verbally acknowledge a patient’s emotions to establish a level of empathy and trust so that they feel comfortable telling you more. Be sure to summarize what you’ve heard and normalize their feelings by relating how others and even you may have felt the same way. This is a crucial part of establishing rapport with the patient as a person rather than a condition or list of symptoms.
(4) Use clear, direct words free of jargon.
When relating a patient assessment, treatment protocol, or diagnosis, it’s important to use clear and direct language that is as free of medical jargon as possible. In any case, be sure to leave pauses in the conversation to be sure that the patient understands and is processing what you are saying.
Once you have finished, be sure that they understand by asking them another open-ended question such as “How does this fit with what you’ve been thinking about your condition?” This question can avoid misunderstandings and encourages the patient to verbalize any concerns, misgivings or unclear perspectives they may have that they might have been hesitant to share
(5) Empower the patient through effective questions.
As we stated earlier, the patient is actually the most in control of their health, so it’s important to empower them to follow treatment protocols and medication regimens through effective questions. The goal is to not only provide them with a full understanding of benefits, potential obstacles and risks, but to offer a specific time-frame for reevaluation and results.
You can gain valuable feedback and motivate patients to follow through by asking effective questions tied to the treatment program. This can include questions like: “How important do you think it is to do these things?” and, “How confident are you that you can do these things?” These two questions often uncover unknown barriers or motivators so that you and the patient have an opportunity to further tailor the treatment plan.
Regardless of your discipline as a healthcare professional and the environment in which you work, a never-ending line of patients can make it difficult to get the best feedback from each patient in order to achieve the best health outcomes. By centering the conversation on the patient and using these five methods, you can set the stage to get them to open up and share their thoughts. This level of patient-centered communication sets the stage for getting the valuable feedback that you need to be more effective in their treatment.