Recalculating Patient Communications

My GPS has empowered me beyond my wildest imagination. I have no sense of direction beyond forward or backward, left or right. Most of the time I have no idea about how to get where I’m going; it’s the quiet, calm voice on my GPS that helps me find my way. It’s the only way I could travel alone and get to where I need to be.

The beauty of GPS is in its simplicity for the user. Even the most directionally challenged individual can follow commands that a turn or maneuver is pending (leaving plenty of time to follow instructions). You have the assurance of knowing that even if you miss a turn or don’t completely follow the directions, the GPS will recalculate and redirect – patiently and without judgment.

How many patients who find themselves lost in health care’s maze of information, education, medication, and unfamiliar and unknown terminology would benefit from a GPS that could navigate them through the experience with simple, step-by-step directions?

Communication limitations make the patient’s experience frustrating and unpleasant, either creating or increasing his or her level of anxiety. For a provider of care, listening is as important as talking. You need to give the patient the opportunity to ask questions and, as the professional, take the time to gauge what this person is feeling. Then you need to provide the patient the information he or she needs, but do so in a manner that reduces the anxiety that can interfere with understanding. In other words, recalculate.

Effective communication requires a clear message sent and received. Taking that extra few minutes for a question from the patient or family might be the difference in successful compliance with treatment and outcome.

A physician I once worked with was the most effective communicator I have ever had the privilege to work beside. He was an excellent clinician, but he was most skilled at making each patient in his care feel special. He did his complete assessment through conversation. By the time he was done, he knew each patient’s life story and medical history and had built a rapport with them. He was always able to find something he had in common with the patient, whether it was food or football, fishing or farming, kids or cars. Patients felt better about their situation because he was in it with them. His communication was not just for the patient’s benefit; it was because he was truly interested in each one as an individual who was special to someone, so special to him as well.

How can we care for people as patients without being concerned about and interested in patients as people? In designing our action plans for improving communication, perhaps the best place to start is with the most basic concept of our profession – to look, listen and feel.