Tips for Effective Patient-Provider Communication
Cindy Mehallow | Monster Contributing Writer
Want better patient outcomes, more patient cooperation, fewer errors, greater job satisfaction and more effective use of your time? It’s all possible by improving one key skill: Patient communication.
“Communication is the most important medical procedure that anyone in healthcare can do,” says Maysel Kemp White, PhD, president and CEO of Healthcare Quality and Communication Improvement, an educational and consulting group for healthcare professionals. Because communication is so vital to successful patient outcomes and higher patient satisfaction, many healthcare providers are honing their skills to avoid communication glitches.
Barriers to Communication
One major obstacle to effective communication is the vast gap between the healthcare world and that of the average patient. “Entering a healthcare system can be similar to landing on another planet — the customs, dress, language and privacy rules are all very foreign and mostly not welcome, especially when one is scared and not feeling well,” Kemp White says.
Low literacy rates also sabotage understanding. Health literacy is a staggering problem, according to Dr. Terry Stein, director of clinician-patient communication for The Permanente Medical Group, a Kaiser Permanente branch.
Nearly half of all Americans have trouble understanding and using health information, according to a 2004 report by the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies. Patients with limited health literacy are hospitalized more often and use emergency services more frequently, which can lead to billions of dollars in avoidable healthcare costs.
Furthermore, the most recent National Adult Literacy Survey found that an estimated 30 million adults, or 14 percent, have “below basic” literacy skills. Healthcare professionals generally rank in the highest category, creating another gap.
Conversation can also falter when patients are suffering from emotionally charged medical problems such as abuse, urinary stress incontinence or pelvic floor pain, says Anne Harrison, PT, PhD, associate professor of physical therapy at the University of Kentucky College of Health Sciences.
Other hurdles can surface when English is a patient’s second language, computers are present in the examination or hospital room, and patients’ expectations of the healthcare system rise with their out-of-pocket contributions.