Communication is an inescapable part of your work as a healthcare professional. Understanding your patient’s needs and communicating with fellow healthcare providers—be it doctors, nurses, or healthcare assistants who work alongside you—is part and parcel of working as a care provider. But have you ever wondered how exactly you can be a better communicator at work?
Specifically, how can you break the barrier with your patients and better understand and fulfil their specific, unique needs?
9 practical ways to connect better with your patients
Here are 9 ways to forge better connections with your patients, communicate clearly, and improve your ability to provide care.
1. Learn common phrases that your patients would know
Many elderly Singaporeans may prefer speaking in their mother tongue or a dialect instead of English. Adapting the language you use to your patients’ preferences, linguistic ability, and comfort level is one way to make your patients feel more at ease from the get-go.
For example, greeting your patients in a language that they are familiar with using can leave a positive impression, allowing you to build rapport with them.
Here are some common greetings that you can familiarise yourself with:
- Mandarin Chinese
- Zao an – ‘Good morning’
- Wan an – ‘Good night’
- Xie xie – ‘Thank you’
- Zou san – ‘Good morning’
- Ho mm ho? – ‘Are you doing well?’
- Mm goy or Dor jeh – ‘Thank you’
- Li ho bo – ‘How are you?’
- Gam xia – ‘Thank you’
- Selamat pagi – ‘Good morning’
- Selamat malam – ‘Good night’
- Apa khabar? – ‘How are you?’
- Kaalai vaṇakkam – ‘Good morning’
- Madhiya vaṇakkam – ‘Good afternoon’
- Iniya iravu – ‘Good night’
- Eppati irrukkirirkal? – How are you?
Even if you are unable to hold a full conversation with your patients in another language, knowing commonly used words in the various languages and dialects can help them to better understand you. Phrases such as “Can I help you?” or “Are you comfortable?” often come in handy in bedside care, and having these phrases at the back of your hand can improve the way that you connect with elderly patients.
2. Make your patients feel comfortable and at ease
As a trained healthcare professional, administering treatments may seem like mere tasks. However, most patients would inevitably feel anxious and uncertain when faced with the possibility of health issues and when they are in the unfamiliar environment of a hospital or health facility. It is important to consider that these are natural responses and that you can play a part in offering reassurance.
For instance, imagine that you are about to transfer a patient from their hospital bed to a wheelchair for a CT scan, an X-ray, or an MRI. They may not be entirely certain of what is about to happen to them. It is helpful to let them know what they can expect by sharing:
- Whether there are other nurses or assistants who will be helping then,
- Who can they approach if they need help,
- How much time the procedure or process would take,
- What happens during the procedure, e.g. will they be required to wear an X-ray gown or a head cap, and will you be assisting them with it? Will they be asked to stay still for an MRI?
Explaining their treatments in the simplest terms or even preparing them for how you are here to assist them is the best way to provide reassurance.
3. Practise active listening
In a healthcare setting, active listening refers to the way that you listen and respond to your patients. With active listening skills, you can improve mutual understanding and better solve problems in the care process.
There are a multitude of cues to indicate that you are listening attentively. Some of them include:
- Nodding or acknowledging pertinent information
- Using phrases such as “I understand you”
- Summarising what your patient is saying to you and clarifying if you are understanding them correctly
For instance, Care Pro Christina knows first-hand the importance of active listening in her work and cites it as one of the most important skills to master.
4. Notice your patient’s body language and your own
Body language is an often overlooked part of communication. However, our gestures and movements can sometimes convey more than what you say or do and is an essential part of active listening.
As part of your efforts to better understand your patients, it is important to pay attention to how they are acting. Are they wincing, grimacing, or furrowing their brows? Are they leaning away from you or looking away as you speak to them? These are potential signs that they may be in pain or are not feeling well, even if they do not explicitly express it in words.
It is equally important to be mindful of your body language. Showing that you are hearing your patients out through open body language, instead of closed-off and defensive postures, can make a difference in how they might feel towards you and your ability to care for them.
5. Begin with open questions
Open questions are questions where your listener can respond with a personalised answer, rather than just a ‘yes’ or ‘no’.
Examples of open questions are:
- “How are you feeling today?”
- “Where do you feel pain?”
- “How can I help you?”
In contrast, examples of closed questions are:
- “Are you feeling better today?”
- “You feel better today, right?”
- “Is your leg in pain?”
Knowing how to ask open questions like these is an important skill to have. With open-ended answers, patients more precisely tell you what they are experiencing. They are less likely to simply agree or disagree with your assumptions.
6. Use humour appropriately
Humour can brighten your patients’ days, but it is important to know that not all individuals are receptive to humour when they are not feeling well.
Alternatively, humour and jokes at your own expense—rather than your listener’s—can be a way to inject humour into a conversation while minimising the chances that it would be received poorly.
7. Be aware of cultural differences
In a diverse society like Singapore’s, your patients would likely come from a variety of different backgrounds and exhibit vastly different behaviours depending on their socio-economic factors, personal upbringing, personal beliefs, health literacy levels, and even their previous experiences with healthcare providers.
These various factors can influence:
- How your patient perceives their symptoms and the severity of their condition
- How receptive your patient is to healthcare recommendations, treatments, and plans
- Who do they believe should make treatment-related decisions for them
As a healthcare professional, it is key that you keep these cultural differences in mind while administering and providing care.
Withholding your judgement when a patient’s behaviours and attitudes are different from what you expect is an important part of being culturally sensitive. Asking for permission before you touch or make skin contact with a patient, for example, is also another way of demonstrating sensitivity.
8. Ask patients to teach you back
A study has shown that over half of Singaporeans aged 65 and above are unable to read in English. This presents a challenge when it comes to health literacy, especially as health-related materials, such as doctor’s reports or medication instructions, are often in English.
To minimise the chances of your patients missing doses, taking their medications without adhering to the instructions, or misunderstanding their condition and diagnoses, the teach-back method might be useful.
is a broad category of strategies that encourages your patient to share more about their health, their recovery, or the procedures that are to be done in their own words and understanding of the situation.
Here are some situations where you might want to use the ‘show-me’ method to encourage your patients to teach you back:
- Ask them to demonstrate a physiotherapy exercise they have to do when they return home
- Ask them to explain the frequency and dosage of their prescribed medication
- Ask them when their next appointment is and how often they should return for check-ups
9. Reassure your patients before sending them home
Whether you work in a clinic, a hospital, or a home care setting, nurses and healthcare providers like you play an important role in offering comfort and encouragement to patients. If they are about to be discharged or are returning home, gentle words and smiles can uplift their spirits and potentially make them feel less worried.
Being a patient who’s facing health problems can be a stressful experience, but having a nurse who is helpful and compassionate can make a difference in their recovery. This is where you come into the picture.
Whether you are a nurse, a doctor, a caregiver, or someone who works closely with patients, these communication skills are key to a smooth care delivery process. And when you can enjoy genuine moments of connection with your patients, it is also a way to make your work feel much more meaningful, too.
If you enjoy interacting with your patients, why not join Homage as a Care Professional? We are looking for caregivers, nurses, and therapists who want to make a difference by providing quality, home-based care to seniors in Singapore.
- Retrieved 12 October 2023. https://publichealth.tulane.edu/blog/cultural-competence-in-health-care/