Better patient satisfaction through communication.

Abdus Salam Khan, MD FACP
June, 2017

We live in an age of information. Depending upon circumstances, some people will see benefit in it, but otherwise, this information load creates confusion in most of our decisions. We also live in an age where communication is very important. We will believe things based on the way we perceive them, that is, the way they are relayed to us.

Adding to these two phenomena in the setting of the emergency department, we realize that in the setting of fast paced care, how easy it is to perceive whether the care is good or not. Patients at times come with predefined or already thought out ideas about their problem. They get treated yet still think things are not alright as their mind is still stuck in unanswered questions. At other times they use their available IT tools and self-diagnose their problem while being actively treated in the department. Regardless of all IT and all the “help” Google provides on medical terminologies, the key to a patient’s satisfaction still lies in the hands of the treating physician and the communication skills of said physician.

The communication in the emergency department takes many shapes. The most important is staff to patient communication. Whether it is the doctor or the nurse or any technician or paramedic, one simple misunderstanding due to bad communication can ruin a very good treatment/. There are plenty of other communications taking place which are:

  1. doctor to doctor
  2. doctor to nurse
  3. nurse to nurse

All these communications can occur in various types and these types are based upon the circumstances that generate these communications. Following are the basic types of communications:

  1. Listening and attending
  2. Non-verbal communication
  3. Verbal communication
  4. Written communication

Through utilizing these tools, we, as treating physicians, nurses and technicians, not only educate our patients but also make their visit to emergency department a better and satisfactory one. This can only happen if the patients, and the department staff, practice and hone our communication skills frequently.

We all can easily understand that the most easily acquired skill is listening, and the best way of listening is active listening which is free from distraction. The active listening can have magical effects on patient satisfaction as most people ever appreciate attention. This listing also helps physicians understand some basics about the patient. They would know their background, education and their expectations from the treatment that they are undergoing. Active listening also give physicians time to compose themselves and collect their thoughts, so when they start communicating and explaining themselves it creates a high impact on to the patient.

We all are very much aware of the other three types of basic communication which are nonverbal, verbal and written communication. In order to make our communication a good communication we all have to utilize all compliments of communication starting from nonverbal in terms of making ourselves available to patients free of distraction than choosing the right words for verbal communication and whenever we have to write things down we should write in legible writing and easy to comprehend words so that when they go home and read what we have written for them they should not have any issues understanding them.

All the information that any patient gathered during the course of his/her disease is from various sources. Most of them are more terrifying to them and they come to their doctor with fears about their future. As a physician VR at such a powerful position that not our treatment, but our communication creates bigger impact for our patients they want to see an ally in us rather than bearer of the bad news. They need to have a trust in us. A trust that says is that the decisions made by my doctor for my benefit even if they proved to be faulty. The trust is not in my ability to always make good decisions, but in my ethics of always making appropriate decisions for the sake of the patient.

With trust-based open communication a less than optimal outcome don’t carry a negative sentiment with it. Doctors cannot guarantee that they control the outcome but they should be able to guarantee that the process of decision-making was in the best interest of the patient. This can only be achieved via best communication between the doctors and the patients.

Now coming to the other communications in the emergency department, which are communication between doctor and doctor, doctor and a nurse and vice versa, the basics of conversation remains the same. We should always make sure that our communication is excellent on verbal as well as nonverbal front. We should be seen always as trustworthy and easy in our communication. We should communicate in words that are easily understandable, in tone that is not harsh and in gestures that are very friendly.

In the emergency department where the mode is always on the fast track and time bound, we should always make sure that we don’t give any chances of misinterpretation through our less than perfect communication.

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