Blog Post

5 Ways to Improve Patient-Provider Communication in Your Practice

Much like muscles, communication skills take work to strengthen. But, given their importance to building solid patient relationships, it’s worth the effort.

Sarah Gray
5 min read
July 22, 2021
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Research conducted by Harvard University, the Carnegie Foundation, and Stanford Research Center found that 85% of long-term job success depends on so-called soft skills, such as communication, emotional intelligence, collaboration, and adaptability. Although this concept took awhile to catch on (this study was done way back in 1918, after all), the good news is that today, “soft skills” are increasingly recognized as “power skills” among the general workforce—and within the healthcare community especially. 

No matter how you spin it, communication is the foundation for productive relationships between themselves and their patients. It increases trust, health literacy, and improves outcomes overall. Thus, setting the tone with regards to the importance of communication within your practice is essential to optimizing patient-provider relationships. 

To help you apply the merits of good communication to your clinic operations, we’re offering the following tips:

1. Pay attention to how you listen.

One of the most important parts of good communication actually has nothing to do with speaking—it’s all about listening! Before you can help a patient, you need to understand their point-of-view. The goal is to be an active listener, which means not only listening to the words that are being said, but also to the messages communicated through body language—and even that which goes unsaid.

Listening to your patients helps you:

  • Better understand their past history and current goals;
  • Get a sense of their lifestyle, likes, dislikes, and personal values; and 
  • Gather important information that could affect their treatment plan.

Fortunately, active listening isn’t difficult to master—it simply requires you to give patients your complete focus. If you’re at all distracted, your patient will pick up on it. So, eliminate potential interruptions as much as possible. This could even be as simple as tucking away your cell phone or minimizing side conversations with your coworkers. When you’re building rapport with new patients especially, these small actions can go a long way. Showing your patients that you’re present and engaged from start to finish will make them more willing to listen to you—and more motivated to make the most of each and every visit.   

2. Take a collaborative approach.

Instead of viewing patient care as a provider-driven endeavor, think of your patients as partners in care. So, rather than just informing your patient of their treatment goals, ask questions to learn what they’re hoping to achieve. This approach makes patients feel more involved in the process, and thus, helps build trust right out the gate. For example, some PT clinics have a friendly sign in the waiting room prompting patients to have their goals and questions ready to discuss with their PT. Some even have pens and paper at the ready for this purpose.

Of course, not every patient has the same communication style. Providers can also educate themselves and their team on how to collaborate with a wide range of patients through DiSc training, or other types of personality education. Learning how to adjust your approach according to your patient’s preferences will go a long way in fostering good communication. 

3. Check in often with specific questions.

It’s not uncommon for patients to be tight-lipped when it comes to sharing personal health information. The good news is that most just need a little nudge—which is where you come in. Asking specific, open-ended questions can open the door for patients to share more of their story, and enable you to collect valuable information required to further tailor their treatment plans. For example, you might ask:

  • Are there any parts of the treatment you’d like to ask me about? 
  • What questions do you have about rehab therapy? 
  • How are you feeling about your progress so far?

The more information you can get from a patient, the better equipped you will be to give them the best care possible.

4. Offer plain language explanations.

An informed patient is a motivated patient. After all, patients who fully understand their role in the treatment process are far more likely to follow your expert guidance. So, to further engage patients in their care plans, strive to explain the impact of their conditions and the expected treatment results. Just be mindful to swap out the medical jargon for plain language and easy-to-understand terms. 

Explaining information to your patient is an ongoing process, so patience is key. Even if a concept has already been discussed, there is no guarantee that the patient fully understands it. Review relevant information as many times as needed until your patient feels confident in his, her, or their understanding. Remember—what’s obvious to you as an experienced therapist might be puzzling to a patient. 

5. Extend your support past the clinic doors.

Above all, patients need to feel supported throughout their entire care journey. To ensure your patients feel this way, you can—and should—extend communication beyond in-person appointments. Make sure your patients know that your assistance and expertise are available to them between visits via text, email, telehealth visits, or other appropriate services. Fortunately, there are a plethora of tools (like WebPT Reach) to help you maintain communication with patients from wherever, whenever—and support you in improving patient volume across the board.

Communication skills are a lot like muscles—it takes work to strengthen them. But, much like physical fitness, it’s worth the effort. Good communication will gain your patients’ trust, improve your relationship, and ultimately boost health outcomes. How have you toned your communication skills? We would love to hear your tips and tricks below.


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