Communication – talking, listening and exchanging information – is at the heart of caregiving. As caregivers, we must be attuned to our patients’ body language, listen earnestly, and, of course, speak clearly to ensure positive outcomes. Good caregiver-patient communication will increase patient satisfaction, reduce medical errors, and improve clinical outcome.
Good communication between caregivers and patients is also the foundation of quality healthcare. Through effective communication, caregivers are able to build trusting relationships with their patients, which in turn, enables the patients feel more free and comfortable raising important issues and talking about their concerns. When patients and their families trust caregivers, they are better able to communicate effectively, cooperate in treatment, and cope with uncertainties.
By simple definition, communication is the process that we use to send and receive messages and exchange information with other people. According to Merriam-Webster Dictionary, it is the process or act of exchanging, expressing or conveying information and ideas through writing, speaking and gesturing. The simplest form of communication is a three-step process that takes place between two people. The process will include:
- The Sender
- The Receiver
- The feedback
Communication can be either Verbal or Non-Verbal. Verbal communication involves the use of words and sounds, spoken or written, e.g. oral reports. While Nonverbal communication involves the use of body language, signs and symbols. Nodding your head instead of saying “yes” is nonverbal communication. The tone or emphasis we have to words is also nonverbal communication.
The three main elements of nonverbal communication are – body language, appearance, and sounds.
For caregivers, it is imperative to put effort into improving their communication skills. This will help them perform better at the job and advance in their career. Some of the good communication skills that will help the caregivers perform better will include:
- Don’t just talk, listen
A key factor in improving communication with patients is to listen carefully and seriously consider what the patient is saying (even if the message is uncomfortable). Listening is a very important aspect of communication. It is more than just hearing; and involves the interpretation and evaluation of the received information. Caregivers with ineffective listening skills can miss important verbal clues from patients or family members.
- Be Assertive
Assertiveness is the ability to clearly state your opinion, needs and wants in a way that respects the rights of other people. Being assertive can get you what you want without damaging your relationships. It is about having a good balance of confidence and humility. It is about being comfortable with yourself and your place in the world. It’s a skill that can be learned (with practice) and it is worth learning.
- Empathy is The key
Being able to understand other people’s perspectives and approach problems from their point of view is an important part of good communication. Empathy — the ability to understand and share someone else’s emotions — make us more open-minded and willing to consider others’ opinions, even if they differ from our own. Having empathy leads to more positive outcomes because it shows that we care about what our patients have to say.
- Ask Questions
Questioning is also a critical communication skill for caregivers. There are two basic types of questions: closed and open-ended. Closed questions generally result in short yes/no or other one-word answers. The caregiver should use this type of question only if precise, quick answers are needed. To draw information from the patient, the caregiver should ask open-ended questions such as, “How can I help you today?”
- Tone and Volume
The tone and the volume of your voice play a crucial role in setting the right atmosphere for a productive conversation. Generally, a calm and consistent tone of voice is preferred to connect better with the patients. Apart from the tone, the volume or the loudness of your voice also matters a lot. It is important that we balance both the tone and volume of our voices to make the patients more comfortable communicating with us.
- Avoid Blocking Behaviors
Often, caregivers unconsciously discourage effective two-way communication with blocking behaviors. Examples of blocking behaviors will include:
- Interrupting or finishing sentences before patients can express their concerns
- Talking more than the patients, making it difficult for them to squeeze their perspective into the conversation
- Deliberately changing the subject because it is uncomfortable
- Failing to clarify the patient’s questions or concerns
- Offering premature or inappropriate reasons or answers
- Overtly avoiding an issue, which conveys a lack of interest in the patient’s concern, etc.
A key factor in improving communication with patients is to listen carefully and seriously consider what the patient is saying (even if the message is uncomfortable). Caregivers must avoid blocking behaviors that only serve to set up communication barriers.
Ike M. Okoye
MD/CEO Prompt Home Health