Communication is wildly important to the patient-provider relationship, and the things you do say matter just as much as the things you don’t. We’ve already covered the conversations you should be having with your patients. Today, let’s talk about the conversations you shouldn’t be having. Here are five phrases you should steer clear of when communicating with patients—if you want to keep them coming back, that is:

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1. “The popliteus originates from the lateral femoral condyle.” (Using overly clinical language.)

You’re an expert—and it’s important to demonstrate your expert knowledge to your patients. However, it’s also important not to confuse them—or scare them away—by using overly clinical language, acronyms that aren’t commonly known, or industry jargon. (The same holds true when marketing to prospective patients, by the way.) Instead, take the time to explain the patient’s condition—and the treatment plan you’re prescribing—in a way that he or she understands. Remember, the goal is to not only share knowledge, but also connect with your patients—and you can’t do that if you’re not on the same page. Now, that’s not to say you should dumb down your communication; simply ensure that what you’re saying is relevant to your audience. And hey, if you have a curious patient who has a passion for all things anatomy and physiology, then by all means, go clinical. Just pay attention to your patient’s body language to determine whether he or she is following—or not.

2. “Because I said so.” (Not explaining the reasoning behind your treatment and exercise prescriptions.)

Administering treatment or prescribing exercise without providing an explanation as to how that treatment or exercise connects to a patient’s goal is a surefire way to turn off even your most engaged patients. When delivered correctly, this sort of explanation can motivate a patient to complete his or her home exercise program and full course of care. As Bijal Shah—the author of this NGPT article—explains, “simply providing general information like telling patients that they use their quads/thighs and glutes/butt for sit to stand is helpful! Your patients are more likely to engage in wall sits and mini squats when they know the exercises are directly linked to their goals.” Before you can effectively connect the exercises you prescribe to your patients’ goals, though, you first must get to know those patients.

3. “You know, you really could do better.” (Discouraging your patients.)

This one should go without saying, but it’s never a good idea to discourage your patients. Doing so could not only hurt your business—who wants to be on the receiving end of negativity during a healthcare visit?—but also negatively impact that patient’s progress. This ABC News article paraphrases Donald Cole—the author of a 16-study review examining the impact of patient attitude on health—as saying, “Across a wide range of clinical conditions, from lower back pain to heart surgery, patients who felt they would do well in recovery did...Patients who were scared or pessimistic about their recovery did not recover as quickly as the optimists or as well.” And a healthcare provider’s attitude can go a long way toward helping patients feel positive about their potential outcomes. Now, I’m not suggesting you sugarcoat things—there are times you may need to have difficult conversations with patients who aren’t progressing—but highlighting patient progress and celebrating milestones is a great way to help patients focus of the good stuff.

(To learn more about why your patients may be stalling out during therapy—and what you can do to help them—join us on February 6 for a complimentary webinar. Even if you can’t attend the live event, register anyway, and you’ll receive the recorded version via email.)

4. “Well, I guess that would be okay.” (Allowing patients to dictate their care plans.)

As mentioned in number one above, you are the expert—which means it falls on you to create your patients’ care plans based on your years of schooling and clinical expertise. While you may be tempted to allow some of your more strong-willed patients to dictate their own treatment, it’s important to remember that you’re the clinician, and as such, you’re ultimately responsible for the outcome. Handing off that responsibility to your patients—even with the best of intentions—could put them at risk, not to mention create a major liability for your practice. That being said, be sure to take into consideration each patient’s concerns and input regarding his or her care plan—it is his or her body, after all. This should be a partnership between you and your patients, and working together is sure to produce the best results.

5. “See you whenever.” (Sending patients on their way without discussing next steps.)

Rehab therapy is a long-distance race—not a sprint—which means your patients need to attend their sessions and complete their at-home exercises in order to get the most out of their plans of care. To keep them engaged throughout, you’ve got to be proactive about communicating next steps—everything from scheduling their next appointment before they leave the office to reaching out between sessions to check on HEP progress, provide relevant content, and celebrate gains. It’s this kind of consistent outreach that will keep your patients engaged from their initial evaluation all the way through discharge—and keep you top-of-mind should they require your services again in the future.


There you have it: five things you should never say to a patient. Have your own no-nos to add to this list? Share what you’ve learned to avoid saying to patients in the comment section below.

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