How to communicate effectively with patients?
By Sandhya Mishra
Treating patients or managing your own piece of healthcare pie, effective communication is needed at all the levels while handling a patient. Sandhya Mishra discusses with the exclusive panel on how to master the art of communicating effectively with patients?
There is a famous saying by Sir William Osler, “The good physician treats the disease; the great physician treats the patient who has the disease.” The importance of communication skills for a healthcare professional is such that it forms the integral part of the medical study. However, today with endless patient loads and allied responsibilities in hospitals, there is no room for thoughtful communication with patients by either doctors or non-medical staffs. They find it hard to communicate with patients with all their best resulting in eroded doctor-patient relationship, administrative and medical errors and rising litigations. In the thick of all the pressure and activities at hospital, if the doctors and providers could slow down and communicate effectively patients, it will not only help to reduce legal suits but also save more lives.
Dr Amol Gite, Head-Clinical Services, Reliance Hospital, says, “In the era of consumerism, patients are often at advantage to threaten you to go the consumer court or filing lawful suits. Tactful communication can help mitigate such disastrous situation. It is something where you own up whatever has happened, identify the problem and address what went wrong without deviating a lot from your policies.
“An effective communication enhances patient’s experiences. Nowadays hospitals are known more for providing ‘experiences’ than healthcare to the patients. Hospitals are now even considering to exclusively appoint Chief Experience Officers, basically one of the role of a COO. If the entire team in the hospital has their own role clarity, understands patient’s expectations, maintains needed transparency while communicating then eventually communication becomes effective. Similar is the importance of being in sync with each other for all the stakeholders involved in provision of care. If they all speak the same language, patient naturally confides in and becomes more cooperative.
“Sometimes, when the expectations have not been set right and providers goof-up on 2-3 occasion, patient loses his cool and becomes a ‘difficult’ patient. There is no patient to be told ‘difficult’ to begin with. Nobody comes to hospital with an objective of creating a problem. Doing the quick reality and background setting check, addressing the issue and ensuring better care provision in future one can regain the trust of such patient. If you are able to precisely communicate and he realises that you are picking up the right reason for him getting irritated and are genuinely concerned about his experience at hospital, then he begins to share some cues. This acts as a game changer. Catch and capitalise those cues and try to meet their expectations if it falls under the ambit of normal processes and accepted norms.”
Gracy Mathai, Chief Quality Officer, Baby Memorial Hospital (Calicut) says, “Healthcare delivery is a complex process which involves a lot of human interaction. Honing your communication skills in such setting thus becomes very important. Disease prognosis, financial implications, unmet demands, unattended queries etc can take a toll on already stressed emotional status of the patient. Breaking the bad news in such scenario can make communicating with them even more challenging. An effective communication creates confidence in the patients and their family members. Their trust increases which leads to speedy recovery. They accept all your suggestions positively and willingly participate in the management of their care. Explaining and ensuring that complete information has reached the patient is very important for the communication to become effective. Orienting the patient to their health status, ensuring their privacy, being empathetic, not using unnecessary medical jargons are some other important factors. In case of any communication related issue, doing the root cause analysis using patient’s feedback, identifying the problem and using this information to train the team can act as a preventive step and the beginning of an effective communication.”
Shailesh Sawant, Sr OPD staff, says, “Actively listening and being non-judgemental while communicating with patients helps in peaceful handling of the situation. Effective communication is very important for the front-office staff since we are the ones who first meet the patients and give them first actual impression of the hospital. Sometimes, doctors are unavailable on the day of appointment or system stops working which causes delay in processing voucher. While handling these unpleasant information, one must apologize to the patient and offer them other alternatives like offering consultation from General Medicine or manual vouchers to reduce resultant waiting time. In my day-to-day job handling, many times, I come across patients who are frustrated or depressed due to disease outcome or related reasons. Counselling them to remain strong and stay courageous goes long way to make them feel supported and secured at hospital.”