In the past two years, we’ve heard a great deal about communication and perhaps more about miscommunication. Effective communication is essential to educating patients and enhancing the patient experience. It also has been shown to foster patient loyalty and reduce complaints, but not everyone is a natural at communicating with the variety of patients from different educational, cultural and social backgrounds we encounter every day. Ausmed, Australia’s leading provider of education for health professionals, has a guide for communications skills that has some excellent tips for ECPs.
First, your smartphone should be off and ideally not on your person. According to Ausmed, studies have shown the mere presence of a switched-off smartphone can be a drain on productivity (Ward et al. 2017). If it is necessary to have it with you, and it’s within your company guidelines, be sure to apologize and respectfully let the patient know you must take an urgent call.
Listen and ask questions without interrupting. Maintain eye contact and encourage the patient to express themselves by using phrases such as, “I understand” and “What else?” Open-ended questions beginning with “why,” “what,” “when,” “where” and “how” can provide valuable information about a patient’s eyewear needs or troubleshooting. Avoid using technical jargon when providing information. It seems that airlines aren’t the only businesses dealing with angry customers, and it’s important to try to de-escalate a situation as quickly and completely as possible. Try to find the root of the problem. Is it fear, confusion, frustration or something else? Tailor your approach to the underlying cause. Let the patient know you are listening and open to resolving the issue with phrases like, “I understand why you feel that way.” Avoid language that seems to blame the patient such as, “You didn’t,” “You should,” “Why would you,” and so on. Of course, the patient needs to understand as well. Phrases like, “Let me explain why/how,” “May I suggest” or “An option is,” let the patient know you will work with them for a solution. Speak softly and maintain eye contact and a relaxed body language; avoid crossing your arms. Professor Albert Mehrabian of UCLA demonstrated that when words and non-verbal communication (tone and body language) are in conflict, people will almost always believe the non-verbal message.
Communication is a dynamic interaction between patient and practitioner. Listen carefully, express empathy, explain as simply as possible in a way the patient can understand, and remember that body language sends a message that should be the same as your words.
• Linda Conlin
Pro to Pro Managing Editor