Do you remember a time when you were a patient and not the person tasked with checking in on one? Perhaps you were in pain, undergoing surgery, or awaiting a diagnosis. You probably experienced at least some degree of nervousness, uncertainty, and maybe fear. Who was the first person you’d go to with questions? Chances are that it was your nurse or CNA. Since nurses and CNAs spend so much time in patients’ rooms, monitoring vital signs and taking care of day-to-day tasks, it makes sense that patients feel most at ease with them.Learning to communicate well with patients in such unusual (and sometimes, trying) circumstances takes practice. Take a double-check of the following three areas that work together for effective communication with your patients.
We often think of talking when we think of communicating, but listening is arguably the most important part of great communication. Practicing active listening in healthcare can improve outcomes and help you build relationships with patients.
- Ask open-ended questions that allow for patients to elaborate, and, while they’re speaking, make sure not to interrupt. When someone is facing nerves, they are often uncertain about how to express themselves, so be patient.
- Ask follow-up questions or interject encouraging phrases such as “Go on…” to be sure that each patient has the time necessary to tell you everything they need to.
- Listen to hear and understand instead of trying to formulate the next thing you need to say.
- Repeat what you hear. It will help patients and their families know that they have been heard if you restate their concerns or questions. It can also help you avoid talking past each other.
- Respond to nonverbal cues such as a worried look, failure to hold eye contact, or a nervous tick. Listen not only to the words your patients are saying but to what their bodies are telling you.
- Report information that may help doctors or other members of the medical team make informed decisions for care. As a nurse or CNA, you’ll likely hear more from patients than doctors and specialists, and you may notice small changes in a patient’s mental or emotional state that might otherwise go overlooked. Don’t underestimate the importance of your role.
2. Verbal Communication
When patients, or their family members, come to you with questions, they’ll most want you to be clear. But how does this play out? What does it mean to speak so that patients can easily understand? Here are some tips that might prove helpful:
- Introduce Yourself. While you may be comfortable and experienced in healthcare facilities, remember that many patients are not. Patients can be unsure and somewhat disoriented. Put them at ease by introducing yourself, telling them your title, and giving some information about what they can expect from you. This is also a good time to start building rapport with patients; ask a little about them so they get comfortable with you and know that you’re concerned with more than just the numbers on the charts.
- Let patients in on the process. Any time you enter a patient’s room to complete a task, let them know what you’re doing. Although this may seem obvious, when nurses get into the routine of a shift, they often forget that patients may not know what’s going on. (Note: This is unnecessary if patients are asleep or otherwise engaged.)
- Speak slowly and clearly, not loudly. This bears repeating, especially if you’re working with elderly patients or those for whom English is a second language. You need not shout to get your point across; instead, focus on slowing down (information-heavy sentences are more difficult to process) and enunciating.
- Avoid medical jargon-- or at least be aware of it. Take the time to realize when an acronym or procedural term comes out when you’re explaining something to a patient or the patient’s family. Always offer definitions for unfamiliar terms, and respond to quizzical looks with further explanation. Remember: most patients haven’t gone through medical training.
- Check for understanding. Simply stated, ask questions: “Does this make sense?” or “Is there anything still unclear?” This skill is often taught to educators, and it’s a simple step to ensure that no lurking questions remain unanswered.
- Be direct. Sometimes, simple is best.
- Be firm when necessary. A slight change in tone can help patients understand when you’re giving them information that is of a more serious nature: “I don’t want you to try to get out of bed alone. Those stitches are still healing. Call me with this button when you need help getting up.” Likewise, keep your patient’s well-being at the forefront when it comes to visitors. Direct family members and friends to follow hospital or facility rules if they are lingering too long or behaving in a way that might hinder a patient’s rest or health.
- Consider studying an additional language. In a multicultural world, knowing another language will not only help you advance in your career, but it will help patients whose first language is not English feel especially cared for if you can communicate with them in their own language.
3. Nonverbal Communication
Don’t forget that you communicate with your body, too. Patients can read a lot into how you carry yourself. Help them feel at ease by mastering some basic nonverbal communication skills.
- Smile. One of the easiest ways to make yourself approachable is to smile. Even in the midst of a busy or long day, do your best to smile often.
- Maintain eye contact so patients know you’re listening.
- Slow down. Although it’s easy to get caught up in a chart, don’t let the temptation to get things done quickly override your ability to communicate well with patients. Instead, practice turning your body and attention toward the patient. Pull up a chair every once in a while, and lean into a conversation that is especially important. Communication is some of your most important work, and the connections you forge with patients may help you find even more joy in your job.
- Be aware of your tone of voice. How you say things is almost as important as what you say. A gentle tone can go a long way.
- Nonessential touch like hand-holding or a tender pat on a patient’s shoulder can help decrease anxiety, especially in vulnerable patients who are facing difficult diagnoses or loss. This has been shown to be especially important for elderly patients and children.