By Melissa Hagstrom, contributor Jun 10, 2020
Now that masks or other facial coverings are mandatory,
communication between the healthcare provider and patient takes on even greater
importance. Before, physicians and other clinicians could rely more heavily on
words and a smile to evoke comfort in a nervous patient.
Today, however, providers must employ other measures to ensure
open and clear communication.
Eventoff, communication and messaging strategist, founder of The Oratory
Project and owner of Princeton Public Speaking, provides several key tips to
improve verbal and nonverbal communication with patients in today’s healthcare environment.
4 strategies to better
communicate with patients
1. Create an environment of mutual
SEARCH ALL JOBS
“When a patient walks in now, two things have changed dramatically in recent
times: the amount of information available online to anyone and the state of
heightened anxiety due to the coronavirus,” he explained. “Before you even walk
in that room, understand that the person you are walking in to see has most
their symptoms. Patients have gotten really good at self-diagnosing
and they are primed with information that is probably incorrect.”
and clinicians must understand that this is the current state of the world, and
part of caring for patients includes validating their concerns and the research
they may have conducted on their own about any symptoms they are having.
having that understanding is something that I have seen a number of wonderful
physicians do. Just simply walking in, smiling and saying hello. ”
2. Slow things down
Because many patients are feeling more uneasy in the current environment,
making an effort to slow down can help improve communication—starting when you
first encounter the patient.
taking the cadence a bit slower and just slowing down the angst in the room
before any words are spoken,” Eventoff explained.
are uncomfortable,” he added. “We are not used to wearing masks into a doctor’s
office. We are used to a surgeon wearing a mask but not a regular doctor.”
Eventoff noted that slowing everything down can seem counterintuitive for
physicians who are overwhelmed with sickness and trying to help as many people
as possible, but the effort is worth it.
down and taking the time to listen can relieve tension in the patient and help
open the flow of communication during the rest of the medical encounter.
3. Beware of body language and
nonverbal communication cues
communication spans far beyond the spoken word. With masks and other forms of
personal protective equipment in use, adapting additional communication
strategies can be a key driver in building the patient–clinician relationship.
Eventoff said that the context for patient encounters have changed because a
lot of the cues your patients are used to experiencing may be mitigated by a
facial covering. For example, every doctor’s office has a specific smell and
even taste, and those key senses are not accessible when a patient’s mouth and
nose are covered.
“We experience life through our five senses; now at least two of those senses
are muted through a mask,” he continued. “Then we get into our nonverbal cues,
and a smile behind a mask is a harder thing to identify; you have to look up at
the orbital muscles.”
Eye contact also plays a critical role in allowing healthcare providers to
better communicate with patients. Really focusing on each patient and giving
them your full attention will help them feel more comfortable and ready to
4. Don’t forget to express empathy
a more effective communicator takes practice. It also requires the desire to
understand how your patients are truly feeling. Empathy and compassion are two
pillars of emotional intelligence. Most physicians and other healthcare
professionals are already familiar with these best practices.
empathy is more important than ever,” Eventoff said. “The empathy to me carries
the day, always has carried the day, and I think now more than ever.”
Trust with Effective Doctor–Patient Communication
CARE offers locum tenens jobs for physicians and
advanced practitioners across the U.S.