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Weekend Doctor: Effective communication

By Nancy Proctor, BSN, MAE
Patient Experience Educator

Our survival depends on human interaction, which creates connection, trust and safety. Deep-seated in all of this is effective, “real” communication.

Believe it or not, despite the healthcare industry’s state-of-the-art everything (technology, equipment, buildings, campuses), the number one way we still treat our patients and families is through communication.

Explanation, education and information sharing are a large part of the patient experience, as we include the patient and family as partners in the healthcare team. In this way, healthcare professionals create mutual purpose via diagnosis, treatment and health management, in order to facilitate the most optimal health outcomes for the patient. Through dialogue, we also help develop mutual accountability. We are going to take care of you while you’re here and teach you how to take care of yourself when you’re not. This relationship is a winning combination for all.

When communication is effective, recovery times are shorter and clinical outcomes are better in large part because mutual purpose and accountability lead to increased compliance.

Since effective communication is so integral to everyone’s success in and out of healthcare, here are a few things to consider and remember as we begin and sustain our relationships.

Contrary to popular belief, the four ways we communicate are reading, writing, speaking and listening.

Changing our words changes our outcomes. To be articulate, respectful and empathetic as caregivers, we increase patient understanding and ultimately compliance. We get a good start with authentic communication by spending the first four years of our lives learning how to talk, only to succumb to technology and the resulting lack of human interaction and “real” talking.

In addition, when someone talks, we need to listen. It’s interesting that, out of the four ways we communicate, listening is the only one we are never formally taught, yet when you break it down it comprises 90 percent of the time we would normally spend communicating. Sadly, technology takes away not only talking but the fine art of listening. When you consider that the way you listen will determine what people tell you, listening is an integral part of the care we give. If patients don’t feel we are listening, most times they will either stop talking or embellish to get our attention. Either way, the information we glean to provide care isn’t complete.

Words aren’t the only component of communication; they are a mere 10 percent. The rest is through body language and tone of voice. The conundrum then becomes how much effective communication we lose via technology and, even more, how much articulating and listening younger generations have
never learned.

Our brains have special cells called mirror neurons that enable us to assimilate words, body language and tone of voice, resulting in empathic and compassionate communication. The caveat is these neurons are only activated when we are present with each other. In other words, talking and listening. We are missing so much through technology.

Lastly, and equally as important, is the fact that we lose 25 percent of our intelligence when we are under stress. Translated to the healthcare arena where patients are fearful, anxious and in pain, they are not processing information the way they normally would. Respectful repetition and patience are needed and appreciated to accommodate full understanding and optimal outcomes.

Let’s remind ourselves that communicating effectively results in the best results for caregivers, recipients and all other relationships. To communicate optimally is to be present with each other and to speak and listen empathically.

What better gift to give our patients and families than an arsenal of information to manage their health and forge that connection through talking, listening, and ensuring understanding, safety and trust. Keep the conversation going, we’re listening.

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