According to a Joint Commission Healthcare Accreditation Group report, miscommunication between patients and their healthcare providers could end up hurting or killing people who need medical care. The report blames cultural barriers, language barriers, and poor general literacy options for most patient-provider communication problems. These miscommunications actually lead to higher costs and worse outcomes in the medical field. In fact, some research has found that up to “70% of medical errors have been attributed to failures in effective communication.” To combat this problem, it is up to each healthcare provider, clinician, and doctor to ensure the information they communicate with their patients is clear, easy to understand, and easy to follow. Here are a few things you can do to help improve doctor-patient communication and ensure that patients understand what you are telling them.
Doctor-Patient Communication: Help Your Patients Understand You
Offer patients easy-to-read written handouts. These do NOT include copies of medical journal articles. Copies of instructions from equipment manufacturers or pharma companies usually won’t be sufficient either. Your handouts need to be easy to understand, visually impactful, and should be written for general population consumption. The American Medical Association recommends a sixth-grade reading level or below.
Review all written materials you currently give to your patients. Could a middle schooler easily understand them? If not, they need to be rewritten at a lower reading level. Are they general enough to be valuable to most patients but specific enough to provide clear guidance? It’s a balance to achieve both.
Offer resources where patients can go for more information. Providing resources will help ensure that any research your patients do is from reliable sources. It’s also an opportunity to send patients to your website to learn more.
Be direct and use simple language. With both patient visits and patient information, it’s important to be direct, ask simple questions, and use easy-to-understand language. This applies to both the real and the digital world. Patients are looking for information, and they are using the language that they know to search for it. To meet patients where they are, and improve their chances of finding you online, use the words that they would use.
Ask open-ended questions. To ensure you are both understanding each other, keep the questions easy to answer and open-ended. Give your patients a chance to tell you that they understand. Some examples of open-ended questions might include:
“This is a new diagnosis for you, so I want to make sure you understand. Will you tell me in your own words what congestive heart failure is?”
“I want to make sure I explained this clearly. I know your daughter helps you manage your health. What will you tell her about the changes we made to your blood pressure medication?”
More Tips for effective patient communication
- Use a caring and empathetic tone.
- Avoid sounding condescending.
- If you have several things to explain, break the task into small pieces.
- Encourage questions.
- Utilize the 5 Cs of Consultation.
You may have heard of the 5 Cs of Consultation: Contact, Communicate, Core Question, Collaborate, and Close the Loop. You can learn more about this model here.
Making sure your patients understand you is key to your success, and more importantly, to their good health! If you are looking to upgrade your doctor-patient communication this year, Watch Media Group can assist with website content, newsletters and emails, social media, written brochures, and in-depth articles. Let Watch Media Group help you tell your story and reach your audience.