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A dentist looks at paperwork on a clipboard with a patient.

Helpful Tips for Clear Patient Communication

Using clear communication can help your patients to better understand health information.

Communicating clearly also helps patients become more involved in their health care and increases their likelihood of following through their treatment plans. 

Whether the communication between patients and healthcare staff is verbal, written or behavioral, clear, consistent, and timely communication is critical for patient safety.

How clear you are communicating is based on several factors including the education, environment, culture, and health of the recipient of the message. With so many factors that can disrupt clear communication, what can you do to improve your chances of getting your message across correctly?

One rule we commonly suggest is that documents should be written at a 5th grade reading level; however, that may not go far enough.  With the Plain Language law of 2010, meant for government employees, the Centers of Disease Control (CDC) created and offers a plain language thesaurus for healthcare terms.  The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) also provides health literacy toolkit.

Tips for Clear Communication

  • Have conversations in a quiet, non-disruptive area
  • Listen carefully and intently
  • Ask open ended questions
  • Maintain a face-to-face encounter where you can visualize any signs of possible confusion
  • Organize information so the most important behavioral or action points come first
  • Break complex information into understandable chunks
  • Use plain language, avoid jargon and acronyms, define technical terms
  • Use the patient’s own words
  • Repeat, and restate as necessary
  • Use the teach back method
  • Consider including family members with the patient’s consent
  • Incorporate illustrations and visual aids

When the patient has confirmed they understand your message, document that affirmation in the records with a simple statement confirming the patient’s verbalization of understanding your message. It’s also important to document what education materials and resources you have provided.

For more information or resources about effective patient communication, contact PSIC today.

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