Besides building empathy and trust, we need to look at a couple of key communication skills. Let’s focus on three skills you can use that will help you work with your patients:
- Attentive listening
- Open-ended questions
- Clear language
As much as is possible in the clinic, give the patient you are speaking to your full attention. When you ask patients to share facts about their health, you are asking for something very personal.
If you don’t pay attention to what is being shared, you send a clear message that you are not interested, not focused, or—worst of all—you don’t care. This will quickly undermine any relationship that you have begun to build. When you speak to your patient beyond the simple yes/no questions that are a routine part of any treatment, be focused and ready to listen to what the patient has to tell you.
A second important skill to master is asking open-ended questions. An open-ended question requires the person you are speaking with to answer something other than yes or no. Open-ended questions can help you get more information from your patient to provide better care, and improve your relationship at the same time.
Which of these questions are open-ended?
- Are you in any pain today?
- How are you feeling today?
- Have you had any new symptoms since your last treatment?
- What sorts of symptoms have you had since your last treatment?
- How has your access been doing?
- Can you still feel the thrill in your access?
When you ask open-ended questions, patients can see that you care and are making an effort to learn about their thoughts, feelings, and motivations. Learning to use open-ended questions is an easy and quick way to have better relationships with your patients.
Healthcare in general and dialysis in particular has a language of its own. We use simple words like run, thrill, labs, and outcomes. We also use less-common medical terms like albumin, AV fistula, hemoglobin, and bruit. And, we throw around lots of acronyms like URR (adequacy), HTN (hypertension), and IDDM (diabetes).
These words and acronyms save us time. But, to many patients, you are speaking in a foreign language! We need to use words, terms, and descriptions our patients will understand and avoid medical terms if we can. Taking the time to explain to your patient exactly what you are talking about will show your interest in their understanding and will enhance the relationship you have with the patient.
Terry has been on dialysis for 4 weeks now, and you have seen a real change in his behavior and attitude. He is more open with you and is starting to talk to other patients. He is talking more about his health and his interest in getting a transplant. This is likely a result of the efforts you and the other staff have put forth in building a relationship with him and taking the time to understand his needs.