How to Best Communicate With Elders and Family Caregivers

Communicating effectively with residents, patients and families is key to providing quality health care. The manner in which you communicate information can be equally as important as the information. Patients who understand their providers are more likely to trust them and play their role in managing their health.

When communication is lacking, it can lead to patients feeling increased anxiety, vulnerability, and powerlessness.

Before you can address communications you should assess your communications. Here are some guidelines courtesy of the AHA.

  • Have you assessed your internal communications?
  • Does the management team do "patient rounds" to find out firsthand about the experience of care and how well your staff is communicating with them?
  • Are you familiar with your community's ethnic and cultural demographics and how they affect communications?
  • Do the tools you use to measure satisfaction look at how well you are communicating with patients and families at all stages?
  • Are your written communications available in a variety of languages?
  • Have you tested your Web site for language level and ease of use?
  • Have you reviewed all of your written communications to ensure that the language, format, and distribution make them accessible to everyone?
  • Does your hospital have a written policy about communicating unexpected or adverse outcomes?
  • Do you have help available to residents, patients, and families concerned about Medicare, Medicaid or other coverage issues?
  • Do you provide in-service training for employees to improve their ability to communicate?
  • Has your hospital developed a "language bank?"
  • Does your organization have an internal ethics committee available as a resource to caregivers faced with difficult medical decisions?
  • Does your website have a section dedicated to information about patients' rights, patient advocates and other service and assistance available to patients and families?
  • Do you have an easy, well-communicated process to enable patients and families to follow up on any concerns they have?
  • Do you promote outreach and education the use of advanced directives and living wills?

The communication process is complex and can be further complicated by age. For older patients with a wide range of life experiences and cultural backgrounds, effective communication impacts their perception of illness and willingness to adhere to medical regimens.

Tips for Effective Communication

  • Allow Extra Time: Older patients require additional time. Plan for it.
  • Avoid Distractions: People want to feel that you have spent quality time with them.
  • Sit Face to Face: Some older people have vision and hearing loss, and reading your lips may be crucial.
  • Maintain Eye Contact: Eye contact tells people that you are interested in them and they can trust you.
  • Listen: The most common complaint people have about providers is that they don't listen.
  • Speak Slowly, Clearly and Loudly: The rate at which an older person learns is often much slower than that of a younger person.
  • Use Short, Simple Words and Sentences: Simplifying information and speaking in a manner helps ensure that people will follow your instructions.
  • Stick to One Topic at a Time: Information overload can confuse.
  • Simplify and Write Down Your Instructions: Write down your instructions in a basic, easy-to-follow format.
  • Frequently Summarize the Most Important Points: Ask patients to repeat your instructions.
  • Give patients an opportunity to ask questions and express themselves: Give your patients ample opportunity to ask questions.

Realize that effective communications impact the experience of care and that is a sure-fire marketing opportunity that should not be missed or messed up.

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