Communicating with Patients in Healthcare

As communication leaders in our healthcare systems, it is up to us to educate and lead the staff, as well as the physicians, on the best ways to communicate with patients. “Delivering bad news unsettles everybody, not just the patient,” said Dr. Riess, founder of Empathetics.

Delivering bad news is not easy. It takes patience, empathy and a relationship to be able to deliver bad news to a patient. Here are four tips to pass along to staff that will help in communicating with patients.

1. Develop a relationship with the patient. If you develop a personal relationship with your patient, they will develop trust in you. Having that trust between you and the patient will make delivering bad news much easier. They will confide in you to help them and to give them the best options and/or treatments. This relationship will help your patient be at ease.

2. Don’t use medical jargon. It is important to remember your patients are people, they have emotions and they don’t use the same language as healthcare providers. When delivering bad news to a patient, you must explain their condition in the simplest terms. The patient wants and needs to understand what the bad news really means, but if you’re speaking medical jargon to them, they won’t understand.

3. Show empathy. “You need to attend to the fact that this is really serious news and attend to the emotion,” says James Tulsky, chief of Duke Palliative Care at Duke University. As the healthcare provider, you need to show empathy towards the patient when delivering bad news. If you don’t show empathy or your patient doesn’t see you as being empathetic, this could have an impact on the way the patient perceives you as a provider.

4. Deliver news in a quiet, personal area. The patient should feel comfortable when receiving bad news. The environment should assure that the patient is comfortable enough to ask any questions or voice any concerns they may have.

It is important for all staff members to be aware of the communication process between the providers and patients. Everyone within the health system needs to be on the same page and delivering news to patients in the same way in order to provide the best possible care for each patient.

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