8 tips for better communication with patients
Research shows that a positive relationship between patient and clinician can improve therapy outcomes. Whether you are an SLP, OT, or mental health professional, your and your patients’ experiences will be better if you maintain good communication. Here are a few tips for improving communication with your patients and creating a positive experience.
Direct communication is always important, and it’s especially crucial when patients are first starting their journey with you. Patients may be hesitant and not know what to expect from therapy. Offering your patient a direct, clear explanation of what they can expect from sessions can put their mind at ease and even allow them to look forward to your sessions.
Practice active listening with your patients. Give them your complete focus rather than thinking about what you want to say next. This is a great way to build trust and ensure that you are giving your patients the best support.
Be attentive to their situation as well. If they are going through something difficult, this is good information to take into consideration during their treatment. A holistic approach can lead the patient to feel more understood and comfortable.
Notice body language
Patients may be uncertain or have questions that they’re hesitant to ask. Notice if your client’s body language or facial expression shows that they might be uncomfortable or uncertain. You can use this as an opportunity to ask them questions that can provide you with a better understanding of their experience.
If the client seems like they aren’t fully understanding you, you can clarify by repeating information in a different way or writing down important concepts and words for them.
Ask open-ended questions
Open-ended questions can invite patients to discuss what’s top of mind for them. This can help to build rapport and let the patient respond on a deeper level, which can give you helpful information for their treatment.
For example, asking “what is the biggest problem you’re facing right now?” will likely elicit a more honest and detailed response than “Is work the biggest challenge you’re facing right now?” Try to avoid questions that can be answered with a yes or no, and instead ask questions that invite the patient to respond freely.
Avoid making assumptions
Try to stay curious about your patient rather than drawing conclusions too quickly. Take the time to listen to the patient’s perspective and goals and consider their motivations. It may be tempting to assume what the patient needs or is capable of, but you may need more information first and their needs may change throughout therapy.
Involve loved ones
Keeping caregivers and family members informed about updates, results, and recommendations can help the patient to feel supported. Coping with a cognitive condition can be very difficult and sometimes patients may become discouraged. However, the involvement of loved ones can increase motivation, helping patients act on their ability to act.
An involved support system can encourage the patient when faced with overwhelm, and can help them make choices surrounding treatment if necessary. If the patient typically comes to their sessions alone, you can offer to call a caregiver or family member to keep them in the loop.
When the patient is relaying information or expressing thoughts to you, summarize what they’re saying to make sure you are both on the same page. If you are uncertain about what the patient is expressing, ask them to explain again or in a different way. This can help you to maintain clear communication.
Encourage the patient to express their thoughts
You can encourage your patient by asking their thoughts surrounding their treatment (using open-ended questions!). This way, they can be involved in decision-making so that they feel more empowered in their treatment. Be patient and empathetic to what they express, and offer support.
For example, if your patient seems frustrated during a cognitive exercise, you could ask, “How are you feeling about this?” or “What is the hardest part of this exercise for you?” Their answer could give you insight that will help you treat them even more effectively. And knowing what works or doesn’t work for your patient can help you improve sessions moving forward.
There’s no denying it, clinicians have tough jobs! We know that you do your absolute best for your patients. Our goal is to provide resources for current and future clinicians that can help to make therapy a little easier and even more effective. Sometimes communication throughout the therapy process can be tricky. However, using the tips outlined above can help to foster better communication and a positive relationship between clinicians and patients.