How Bad Communication Can Quickly Undo All Your Great Work With Your Patients

Posted By: Andy Barker

Just recently I spent a night in A & E with my 3-year son Blake after he got a sweet stuck in his throat.

An x-ray and ENT specialist review later we left the hospital, albeit at 3 am…

The care my son received was great but we were left waiting in the acute assessment ward for an extra 45 minutes because the ENT specialist we had seen had not made it clear to me or the staff on the ward that he was happy for us to be discharged.

It took the senior nurse to question why we were still here and a few phone calls later, it was confirmed we could leave.

This type of thing happens all the time and not just in the NHS.

Patients are leaving clinic rooms everyday unsure and confused.

They leave having not fully understood their diagnosis, their proposed treatment plan and how the home exercise programme you have set them is going to get them back to their activity goal.

As a therapist you may think you are delivering a great service but quite often, because of poor communication all your hard work can quickly be undone.

This often has little to do with clinical skills but your ability as a therapist to communicate your message to your patient well.

This blog will show you some simple strategies to improve your communication skills to ensure EVERY patient you see leaves your care understanding their problem and their plan, allowing you to deliver a higher level of patient care.

How To Build Rapport

As a therapist you will meet patients from all walks of life, and you will all have had patients that you enjoyed treating and some patients that you enjoyed less.

If you think back to these patient’s I would bet that the patients you enjoyed working with the most, you got on with the most.

You were able to quickly build good rapport, conversation flowed well during your sessions and as a result you had a strong patient-therapist relationship.

On flip side, you’ve also likely had appointments that have those awkward silences, where you feel you are having to prise conversation out of a patient and get a sense that the patient isn’t enjoying their session.

Whilst enjoyment isn’t the primary goal of any treatment session, a stronger patient-therapist relationship will help you make quick changes to your patient’s symptoms and accelerated recovery by fostering higher patient adherence to your treatment plan.

By building early positive patient rapport, your patients are far more likely to leave the clinic and actually complete the exercises you have given them as part of their home exercise programme.

Greater adherence to the treatment plan = quicker positive patient symptoms and recovery. Simple as that.

Building rapport is something that will come more natural to some of you than others.

But the ability to build rapport is a skill and something that can be improved with practice.

As a therapist you need to make a conscious effort to build that positive relationship in that very first session.

I consciously spend the first couple of minutes of every new patient assessment talking about everything other than their injury.

I ask if they found the clinic ok, what they have been up to earlier in the day, ask if they have anything they are looking forwards to later in the week…

It doesn’t really matter what the topic is, the purpose is to put the patient as ease and start the first steps to building rapport and that positive patient-therapist relationship.

Keep It Simple Stupid

Most of the patients we see are not medical professionals so why do so many therapists talk to them like they are?

Using fancy medical language and terminology might sound clever but it’s the fastest way to confuse your patients.

You need to speak a language that your patient can make sense of, that they understand, giving them the clarity they need about their diagnosis, prognosis and treatment plan.

The conversation you may have with a member of the MDT, discussing the management of a patient, would be different. In this situation using medical terminology is appropriate.

But not for your patient…

I’m not staying that you can’t use medical terminology, not at all.

You just need to make sure you qualify and explain what you are saying to ensure patient understanding.

Next, learn a real simple way to ensure each patient you see understands what are saying and is 100% on board with your treatment plan.

Does Your Patient Understand The Treatment Plan?

Are you patients clear when they leave their first session with you about what their problem(s) is, their expected recovery and the steps needed to make a successful recovery?

Isn’t that the goal of the initial assessment?

Most New Grad Physio’s really struggle with this.

Their too focused in on the diagnosis and explaining this to the patient they forget about telling the patient what they are going to do to fix their symptoms and get them back to full function.

Very few patients care about their diagnosis, what they actually want is for you to take away their pain and get them back to their previous level of activity.

So, don’t fall into the trap that the most New Grad therapists do.

Think less about diagnosis and more about identifying PROBLEMS.

Once you have your list of problems then you can prescribe SOLUTIONS.

These solutions are your interventions – your hands-on treatments and rehab exercises.

Telling a patient they have anterior knee pain then just sending them away with some ‘glute’ rehab often doesn’t work.

Explaining to a patient their knee is overloaded because of problem X, Y or Z, then explaining how rehab exercise X, Y or Z will fix this problem will work.

You’re clearly linking your rehab exercise to the patient problem.

This is very different to just giving a patient a diagnosis then a list of exercises.

The exercise might be the same in the two above examples, but by communicating this information in a way the patient understands means they will go away and actually complete their home exercise programme.

Key Take-Aways

Building patient rapport starts from the first contact you have with your patient. Make a conscious effort to start a positive patient-therapist relationship from that first contact and you will reap the benefits as your patient adherence rates will improve massively.

Talk to your patients in a way they understand. Big fancy words may make you sound clever but there a one-way ticket to a lack of understanding and confusion for you patient.

Worry less about the diagnosis, instead, focus on providing solutions for the problems you identified.

Communication is key to patient understanding and adhere to your treatment plan.

Employ the above tips with your next patient to improve the patient experience and in turn get quicker resolution of patient symptoms and improved home exercise programme adherence rates.

Andy Barker
The New Grad Physio Mentor

If you found reading this blog post useful you will also find BIG value in my book ‘How To Become A Competent, Confident & Competitive New Grad Physio.’

In the book I show you WHY you need the 3 C’s; COMPETENCY, CONFIDENCE & COMPETITIVENESS, and HOW to gain these skill-sets to enjoy a successful start to your career as a New Grad Physio, Sports Therapist or Sports Rehabilitator.

Find out more about the book here.