Most healthcare professionals have a basic understanding of the communications cycle:
- The sender expresses a message
- The recipient receives and interprets the message
- Feedback to the sender reflects understanding/misunderstanding of the message
It seems simple enough, but we know from experience that the communications process is much more complex than this. For example, it is generally believed that up to 93 percent of communication is nonverbal (38 percent tone of voice, 55 percent body language), leaving only seven percent of communication being dependent on words.
Understanding these important statistics, it is crucially important for healthcare providers and staff to be aware of common situations and how their own communication might be interpreted by patients.
- A receptionist reading a chart intently is a little slow to greet a patient. What is communicated to the patient is: “I see you standing there, but if I stare really hard at this chart, I can avoid dealing with you for another minute.”
- A nurse or doctor refers only to the chart. What is communicated to the patient is: “I don’t remember your name and I’m so busy I won’t bother to try.”
- Check-Out staff is talking while patient waits in line. What is communicated to the patient is: “My American Idol discussion is more important than helping you at the moment.”
- Check-In staff is trying to multi-task. What is communicated to the patient is: “Patients are an interruption. And even if my clock is a bit fast, I assume you’re late for your appointment and I don’t see your insurance card in hand.”
- Various printed signs with warnings and stern language are taped to the check-in and check-out desks. What is communicated to the patient is: “We don’t trust you to follow instructions and we don’t want to be asked a lot of stupid questions.”
It probably isn’t the intention of you or your staff to send these messages to your patients, but each situation bears a closer look in order to make each member of your staff aware of the potential consequences. Patient who feel ignored, unimportant, or talked down to are less likely to refer others to your practice, and chances are they will look for another provider if they feel the situation warrants it.
With these simple steps, you can avoid negative communication and make each patient feel important:
#1 Always greet patients with three smiles: your lips, your eyes, and your tone of voice. This way a patient knows you’ve seen them and they feel welcomed.
#2 Use the patient’s name to provide a personal connection. There’s something about knowing or remembering one’s name that elicits an instant level of trust.
#3 Make sure your signs send a helpful, positive message rather than scolding, negative statements.
#4 Try to empathize with your patient. Even if this is the 100th time you’ve given directions to the restroom or asked for insurance information, always let your tone of voice reflect a willingness to assist.
By practicing these simple techniques, you’re sure to see an improvement in patient satisfaction, and possibly in staff morale as well.