Do You Speak Your Patients’ “Language?”

Do you speak the same “language” as your patients?

No, we’re not asking if you can speak foreign languages, although that is important if you have patients from different cultures.

In this case, what we mean by “speaking your patients’ language” is conveying information to patients in a way that they understand. Patients have different levels of understanding about medical conditions than physicians and medical staff do. They may also communicate important information in different ways.

To get patients actively involved in their healthcare and help them adhere to treatment plans, you need to learn to speak their language and convey information in a way that best resonates with them.

Why Communication is Critical

Communication is so important to get patients the right diagnosis and help them adhere to the treatment plan. Most of your patients do not have a medical background, and may not understand the importance of certain questions you ask or treatments you recommend. In communicating with patients, you need to fully explain why you are asking the question and why you are recommending the treatment. If you don’t, you could miss out on an opportunity to collect important information that can help your patients.

An article in Medical Economics explains how communication failures between patients and providers can lead to critical oversights in care. Proper diagnosis requires an accurate medical history, but providers may not get an accurate history if they aren’t asking the right questions. Medical jargon can also get in the way of communication, so it’s important to simplify as much as possible.

When you take the time to communicate with your patients in a way that they understand, your patients will become more involved with their care and will be better equipped to make important decisions about their health.

Learning to Speak Your Patients’ Language

An article in the Journal of the American Osteopathic Association addresses some of the barriers to patient communication and how to overcome them. It is important for physicians to develop good listening, questioning, and explanatory skills to effectively communicate with patients. Physicians need to be able to recognize nonverbal cues like body language and facial expressions, as they sometimes give clues that the patient doesn’t understand something or may be feeling anxiety around a particular issue. If a physician can recognize these cues, there is an opportunity to address those issues and develop a better relationship with the patient.

Physicians also need to be mindful of nonverbal cues that they may be sending to patients. A physician who looks his patients in the eye, rather than looking at a computer entering notes, is more likely to have more productive communication with patients. Patients may get flustered or forget important details if they feel they are being rushed through the appointment. Physicians who slow down and let patients fully explain their symptoms will often be able to gather more information, and patient satisfaction will be greater because patients will feel the doctor genuinely cares.

Every patient is different and will have different ways of communicating. Just as it takes time to speak a foreign language, it may take time to learn each of your patients’ “languages.” At the end of the day, patients want to feel that you understand and that they can trust you to help them get the care they need. When you convey that to your patients, patient satisfaction will be greater, and your patients will have better outcomes.