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Communication and the Patient Experience: A Two-Way Street

April 23, 2018

As part of PRC’s celebration of Patient Experience Week with the Beryl Institute, we’re publishing a series of four daily blog posts discussing key elements of an excellent patient experience: communication, teamwork, safety, and timeliness.

It’s no secret that top-notch communication promotes success in almost any field. This is doubly true in healthcare, as those you’re communicating with are often in a hurry and under a lot of pressure. From busy physicians and nurses to wounded and worried patients, it may seem like everyone you’re trying to speak with is a little too on edge for comfort. With all that stress, perhaps you yourself feel a bit short with your coworkers or even patients. You know you need to provide the best possible patient experience, but it can feel like every time you open your mouth, you aren’t saying exactly what you mean and don’t have time to fix it. What’s a provider to do?

Nursing Times offers these best practices for communicating under pressure:

Being self-aware and in check with your emotions and how you’re presenting them makes a big difference in communication. Although you may feel like you should react to an inflammatory email immediately, it’s never a bad idea to take a walk or get a drink of water if you’re feeling your blood start to boil or your heart begin to race. In conversation, this means taking deep breaths or changing your focal point before responding. This pause and shift in attention can make a world of difference in how your words are perceived!

Staying focused on the issue at hand is harder than it sounds. A lesson many attendees of couples counseling learn is to focus on “I” statements instead of “you” statements. Just as your partner will be more receptive to “I feel a little left out when you make plans without me” than “You’re always making plans without me” your team will appreciate an “Next time, I’d like you to increase that patient’s medicine using this method” more than “You need to increase Mr. Smith’s medicine using this method.” Small details can go a long way in subconsciously impacting how listeners interpret communication.

But be warned! It’s easy to begin a conversation with great focus but lose it after one party becomes defensive. If you notice this happening, take a deep breath and redirect the conversation back to the issue at hand. For example, “I understand you’d like to talk about your overtime hours, but we need to establish a protocol for Mr. Smith’s medication first.”

Planning ahead is one of the best ways to enter communication, especially tough communication. If you can, schedule a meeting and come prepared with notes for what you want to say and how you want to say it. Planning ahead for what you’ll say to counter-arguments will also help keep your communication clear and professional and will help avoid flustered arguments.

Listening is difficult because it demands silence, which many people find to be uncomfortable. Let the other person finish speaking before you begin, and once they’re done, paraphrase what they’ve just said. A simple “it sounds like you’re concerned about Ms. Johnson’s surgical options, is that correct?” goes a long way to tell the speaker that you’re on the same page and you’re invested in their perspective. Doing so also orients you to begin speaking about this topic, helping you stay focused on the topic at hand.

We’re celebrating Patient Experience Week every day this week, so check back tomorrow for more tips on how to enhance your patient experience!