It's been said that patients don't care how much you know until they know how much you care.

Communicating effectively, at a level the patient can understand, is one way to express care. The words you use and the way you use them is central to establishing a positive relationship that can result in improved outcomes both clinically and in patient satisfaction scores as reported in the HCAHPS survey, part of which deals with communication specifically.

In fact, many of the complaints we hear from patients have less to do with the physician's clinical competency and more with a breakdown in communication, which adversely affects the doctor-patient relationship and reflects poorly on the provider.

With that in mind, here are four ways to improve communication that will result in better patient satisfaction.

Understand Patient Expectations

A patient's satisfaction is tied to his expectations, which may, at times, be unreasonable. Nonetheless, the physician's awareness of the patient's expectations during consultations is vital to achieving effective communication. When the quality of communication is rated highly, patients are more likely to be satisfied with the quality of care they receive.

Listen Intently and Actively

Look into the patient's eyes and listen intently and actively. Ask open-ended questions to draw out more information.

That's not new advice, but it bears repeating. With the high-intensity activity that often characterizes life in the ER, taking the time (even though you may not have a lot of it) to stop, look, and listen is priceless. It shows empathy and respect and demonstrates that you value the patient as a human being.

Utilize Mobile Technology

A recent SCP blog post listed six mobile apps that providers can use to communicate. One reason you may need these tools is that, with growing diversities in population, it's likely that not all of your patients will speak English.

Translation apps such as Canopy Speak or MediBabble Translator communicate quickly with patients using translated medical phrases in a variety of languages, including Spanish, Chinese, French, Arabic, Russian, Haitian Creole, and many others.

Other apps, like VisualDX, contain thousands of images that you can use to help a patient better understand his condition.

Simplify Medical Terms

Another way to facilitate effective communication is to simplify the medical terminology you use. That's not always easy but speaking in plain English at a level patients can understand can have positive benefits.

Patients who better understand their conditions and your recommendations are more likely to take a greater interest in their care. They will ask questions, follow recommendations, and feel less intimidated, making for a better overall experience in the ED.

For example, instead of saying "cellulitis," use the term "skin infection.” Or, in place of "PO" just say "by mouth." Your patients will appreciate your effort to meet them where they are linguistically.

If you need help translating doctor-speak into language anyone can understand, check out the "doctor speak cheat sheet." It contains some of the more common terms that providers use when seeing patients.

Benefits of Effective Communication

An article in NIH PubMed Central entitled "Doctor-Patient Communication: A Review" states that doctors who possess the ability to communicate effectively with patients can expect to benefit in several ways. They can detect problems earlier, prevent medical crisis and expensive intervention, and provide better support to their patients.

This may lead to higher-quality outcomes and improved patient satisfaction. As a result, patients will have a more granular understanding of their health issues and a better adherence to treatment protocols.

We agree. Without a doubt, it pays to listen, understand, speak plainly and clearly, and use aids such as mobile apps when necessary. It also supports our goal of putting the patient first.


Related Reading: 5 Ways ED Clinical Providers Can Improve Patient Experience