patient centered communication

Patient-Centered Communication and Why It Matters

The recent trend in medicine has been heading toward a holistic approach — that is, treating the whole person, not just a single ailment or illness. In order to achieve this goal, many medical professionals have adopted a patient-centered approach to healthcare. In this style of medicine, patients are encouraged to be equal partners in their treatment, and open communication is a key step in this process.

Patient-centered care allows the patient and physician to build a relationship. This relationship builds trust and mutual respect and helps minimize negative patient experiences as well as unpredictable treatment outcomes. 

This patient-centered communication model has been  shown to improve treatment outcomes. It also substantially raises the level of satisfaction patients feel, which is a benefit to both the practitioner and the patient. 

What Is Patient-Centered Communication? 

Patient-centered communication is the practice of educating patients as to the nature of their illness and their general health and educating the provider as to the lifestyle, wellness, and emotional state of the patient. This open communication between those in the healthcare system and those being served by it fosters trust and gives patients the sense that they are active participants in their treatment as well as the eventual outcomes. 

Patient-centered communication begins with the first intake interview. Instead of a questionnaire about their health records that is filled with medical jargon and a series of yes/no questions, practices are encouraged to  set aside time for nurse-patient interaction. During the interview, the medical professional will not only get answers to their questions, but they will also gain a fuller understanding of the health and wellness of the patient as a whole. For the patient, this time gives them the opportunity to ask questions and begin to feel like a partner in their care. 

After the intake interview, every interaction the patient has with a medical professional should allow time for them to ask questions and get real, honest answers. The use of patient portals that allow the patient to ask questions and get answers easily is another important aspect of patient-centered communicaion. These  four steps are essential to achieving effective patient-centered communication

  1. Speak plainly: Healthcare professionals frequently lapse into medical jargon that can leave the patient confused and uneducated. This will not encourage them to ask questions. Whenever possible, use layman’s terms and explain any medical language. 
  2. Ask open-ended questions: Ask questions that encourage the patient to explain their answers, not simply give one-word answers. For example, instead of asking, “Are you feeling better?” you can ask, “How are you feeling?” 
  3. Practice involved-listening: Don’t type on your laptop or adjust your equipment while your patients are answering questions. Look them in the eye and focus on them while they speak. 
  4. Give genuine answers: Answer the questions that your patients ask thoughtfully and honestly. If you don’t have an answer, tell them that, but make it your mission to find the answer for them. 

How Patient-Centered Communication Can Improve the Patient Experience 

The way a patient feels about their care and the clinical practice that provides it is often a reflection of the illness experienced rather than the quality of the care delivered. The more involved a patient feels and the more they understand the treatment’s goals, the more likely they are to view the experience in a positive light — and a positive experience often leads to a positive outcome. Patient-centered communication is one way to improve the overall patient experience. Here’s why. 

Facilitates Patient-Centered Care 

Patient-centered care is the approach through which all aspects of a patient’s life are taken into consideration. This means that the healthcare provider learns about the patient’s goals and expectations before deciding on a course of treatment. 

Patient-focused care is not possible unless there is an open dialogue between the provider and the patient. This dialogue is fostered using the concepts of patient-focused communication. 

Helps Healthcare Providers Adapt to Different Communication Styles 

Not everyone is a great communicator, and some people are uncomfortable talking about their private lives, even with medical professionals. Patient-centered communication will help you bridge the communication gap even with the most reluctant talker. 

Fosters Effective Communication and Better Relationships With Patients 

A solid relationship that is built on trust and mutual respect between a patient and their physician is necessary for high-quality care and positive long-term health. This relationship starts and grows with open communication. Get to know the whole person you are treating, and predictable outcomes will follow. 

Encourages Open-Ended Questions

Open-ended questions lead to actual conversations. These conversations can lead to insights for both the patient and the provider. The patient-centered communication model encourages these conversations, which lead to a deeper understanding for both parties involved. 

Improves Health Outcomes 

If a patient fully understands the methods and reasons for their treatment, they are much more likely to keep up with the regimen. Patients who trust that their doctors have their best interests at heart will trust that the regimen is necessary and stick with it. Both of these aspects make a positive outcome more likely. 

New Communication Strategies and Patient-Centered Communication Tools 

Newer technologies have made it easier to keep the line of communication open, which is a vital part of client-centered care. Electronic health records and patient portals make it easy for patients to contact their providers with questions, even outside normal office hours. Doctors can respond quickly to these questions or rapidly inform their patients of test results or appointment changes. 

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