4 Tips to Increase Positive Communication

Positive communication is the skill of conveying information in a positive manner. It is intended to increase the number of positive interactions while working toward building a friendly patient rapport. Here are four tips we can use during our interactions to increase positive communication.

1. Listen to your patients: Your first interaction is the most crucial opportunity to build rapport, and it sets the tone for the course of therapy. Patients are looking for reassurance that you are a provider they can trust, you understand their concerns, and that you will help them recover. Building rapport starts with letting patients tell their stories. The physical therapist needs to listen actively during this conversation. Incorporating statements such as “what I am hearing is…” while paraphrasing critical components of the patients’ narratives will both clarify the information for the therapist and show patients that their concerns are understood.

2. Tell patients what is right with them: During assessments, we are trained to pick up on everything that is wrong with patients, which is essential for treatment. However, we need to be careful about how we communicate this to patients. Some people may use this information to feel badly about themselves. Others will be relieved that their PT is confirming their symptoms. Regardless, all patients need to leave the clinic feeling a positive change, good about themselves, and optimistic for future sessions. You want physical therapy to be the highlight of their week. After every treatment, the therapist should share post-test changes, ask patients “what feels different”, and get excited about patients’ improvements.

3. Talk at your patients’ level: Another way to facilitate positive communication is to communicate with your patients in a way that they can understand.  Very few patients will understand complex medical explanations and physical therapy jargon. Most patients will need a simplified scientific explanation followed by something to which they can more easily relate. Useful tools to aid understanding include using skeletal models, pictures, analogies, drawings, hand-outs, photos, videos, and written lists. Providing something that patients can take home with them, such as a video on their cell phone, will allow for extra time to process the information and can improve carryover between sessions.

4. Facilitate communication: Positive communication is a team effort, especially when coordinating smooth patient hand-offs. A good rule is to use who, what, when, where, and why phrases for clear communication. Instructions such as “after you finish your last exercise, Joanna will meet you at the front desk for scheduling since we do not have appointments scheduled next week” lets the patient know what will happen next, with whom they will be speaking, where this will occur, and the purpose of the communication. Clinic managers are also a great resource for increasing positive communication and can be introduced to every patient.

Positive communication is a powerful tool that we can use to build a friendly clinic atmosphere. It has the potential to transform our interactions and to increase our patients’ satisfaction with their care.