What message does your practice communicate?

ARCHIVED POST N.B. This post is based on the 2012 Osteopathic Practice Standards and therefore may not reflect current legislation or current Mint procedures.

Communication is constantly taking place between you and your patients and between your practice and your community. There are four key types of communication – verbal, non-verbal, written and visual. These are all components of your practice communication and are the basis for the impression you leave with your patients – are they going to leave raving about your clinic, or will they say ‘great treatment’ but…. You are running a private clinic, patients are investing in top quality care and many practices have neighbouring competitors. How can you make sure your practice is providing a quality experience which stands out as exceptional care?

So let’s consider the different ways that we communicate in clinic:

Verbal communication

As practitioners you spend a lot of time communicating verbally with patients and this is one of your expertise. Good communication enables you to gather information to make diagnoses and form good relationships with patients with shared-decision making. You have spent years at college and all your professional life learning and practicing this aspect of communication. If you are not getting it right then you will soon know by your empty diary. Having emphasised your expertise, there is always room for learning and communication improves with practice. There are often courses in other professions such as business communication which can give some really helpful tips on how to engage people in change or other components of using communication to engage people.

Throughout your life intra-personal communication is taking place – that is the thoughts and feelings that you are experiencing – the conversation in your head. It may be appropriate to reveal these if you are conveying empathy or other supportive emotions and thoughts. On the other hand it may be more appropriate to conceal intra-personal communication such as shock, disbelief or frustration as someone is communicating with you.

One aspect of communication which regular readers will know I frequently emphasise is the need to communicate well throughout the whole patient journey. Patient’s need to know what you are doing and why at all times – miss-communication is the basis of the majority of patient complaints.

Non-verbal communication

It has been estimated that non-verbal communication accounts for 55% of all communication. This includes body language – facial expressions, eye contact, body posture, gestures and body movements. You will often ‘read’ your patient’s non-verbal communication for a greater understanding of their condition. Consider your own non-verbal communication and that of your staff and the impression you convey. Sometimes the set-up of your clinic may inhibit non-verbal communication such as not easily making eye contact with the patient because there is a computer screen as a barrier between you.

For musculoskeletal practitioners touch is a large component of your non-verbal communication.

Touch in general life can convey many emotions – sympathy, love, congratulations, greetings and so on. As a practitioner you are using touch to convey knowledge and understanding of the patient’s condition and using that touch to promote healing. Therapeutic touch conveys a very different form of communication from day-to-day touch and that message is heavily supported by verbal communication.

Visual Communication

Appearance is an important aspect of non-verbal communication. In the clinical context this includes both the appearance of you as a practitioner and your staff and the appearance of your practice. Practices will vary slightly in their style – some prefer a formal clinical style of clinic coats, and smart trousers, others prefer a more informal active look of polo shirt and tracksuit bottoms. It doesn’t really matter which style you go for as it will probably be in keeping with the genre of your practice. Make sure though that you wear clean clothes at all times – for a good impression and infection control. Clinic coats should be changed daily. Show that you care about your appearance as much as you care about your patients.

The appearance of your clinic is also important. What impression do you create by the look of your clinic? – Is it tidy? Are there piles of papers? Is it clean? Is it easy to find dust and cobwebs? Is your couch clean and the linen changed regularly? What impression does the décor create – tired and worn out or bright, and well-looked after? Think about the posters and pictures you display – what message do they convey? Remember a picture is worth a thousand words. Sometimes it is helpful to think about places you have visited – clinics, offices etc. – think of somewhere that really impressed and somewhere that did not impress – what was the difference? Look objectively at your clinic and see what improvements you can make.

Sometimes something as simple as a vase of fresh flowers can liven up the look of a practice. Make sure your visual communication matches up to your standards of care. You want your patients to leave with only positive comments on your practice appearance.

Written communication

You may send your patients written information prior to the first appointment. The GOsC recommends that you provide patients with pre-treatment information but make sure as well as providing information you show your quality, professionalism and attention to detail in that information. If that information contains grammatical errors, mistakes and spelling mistakes that is the first impression your patient is receiving of the type of care and consideration to expect at your practice. Spelling and grammar may not be your forte but if you know that is the case, ask someone else to check through your literature – first impressions really count.

What other written communications do you use? Do you give your patients exercises or advice sheets? Many practitioners use the classic hand-drawn stick-man to remind patients of exercises – this may be fine, creating the impression of bespoke exercises, as long as it is easy to read and understand. On the other-hand if your diagram proves meaningless when your patient gets home, it may cause frustration and a lack of compliance. There are other options such as exercise software which allows you to email exercise videos and explanations to your patients – these can really help with compliance, some programmes enable you to see how many times your patient has viewed the exercises too.

Your website – what does that convey about your practice? Is it kept up to date? Does it demonstrate the same professional impression of your clinic as you want patients to receive when they visit in person?

Do you give your patients information sheets or other post-treatment information to take away? Is it a blurred photocopied sheet or a professional looking leaflet? What impression does your take-home information give of your patient care?

Are there other written communication services you could offer your patients? Helpful newsletters, appointment reminders, take-home information?

Make sure your practice brochures, letters, information sheets etc. all support the values that matter to you in your practice – professional, caring, clear, easy to understand etc.

Communication is a vast subject and I am sure you could expand on many aspects of this post. Share your thoughts and broaden the discussion regarding how communication affects your practice and your positive or negative experiences of communication in your practice or other settings.

Mint is here to help you with communication – high quality practice leaflets and patient information, and the Mint Folder to help you with your policies and procedures to make your practice outstanding.  www.mintpractice.co.uk/shop

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