A Prescription for Communication

April 28, 2016

Too often does poor communication between caretaker and patient translate to a loss in quality of care, an increase in lawsuits … and a lot of unhappy patients. Communication skills have always been a part of medical training, but, traditionally, has never been a main focus, with clinical skills and treatment technique taking center stage. Now, doctors are being pushed to learn to listen more and use effective, simple phrasing to better convey complicated procedures or medical information, while employing more empathy during emotionally challenging conversations.

This is called the Four Habits model:

1) Invest in the beginning, 
2) Elicit the patient’s perspective, 
3) Demonstrate empathy and 
4) Invest in the end.

This method is not only building solid communication and trust between doctor and patient, but helping hospitals avoid lawsuits and other troubles that could have been avoided by the doctor taking the time to explain more in-depth, making sure the patient understood completely and choosing their phrasing more carefully to avoid placing blame or liability.

Most recently, Pennsylvania has adopted, along with 30 other states, what is being called the “I’m Sorry” law, in which doctors are able to express condolences without fear of being sued for malpractice. This law does not cover negligent statements like, “Sorry, I wasn’t prepared,” or, “Sorry I operated on the wrong leg,” but it does make sure that if a doctor wants to show sympathy and compassion by saying, “I’m sorry for your loss,” they can. There is still a grey area in how far the law will protect against malpractice, but being able to introduce some empathy into doctor/patient relations is definitely another step towards effective communication in healthcare.

Strides in communication not only mean good things at the bedsides of patients or during their recovery, but also can go a long way for a hospital’s identity. Embracing good communication skills is the perfect branding tool to showcase humanity, empathy and trust to patients, potential patients and the surrounding community.

For our client Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital Rahway, for example, we developed an emotional campaign featuring real doctors, nurses and hospital personnel telling their personal hospital stories, while emphasizing real quotes that promote the connections and effective communication that staff have with their patients: “Excellent care, excellent service, on a first name basis.” – Eric Kleinert, RN, Emergency Department Manager. Incorporating the mastery of good communication skills into a healthcare branding strategy shows that a facility is compassionate, knowledgeable and even modern, but more importantly, will help patients leave much happier and healthier in the long run.

To learn more about how to integrate better communication into your healthcare brand strategy, contact solutions@oxfordcommunications.com.