You have a very detailed treatment plan to discuss with a patient. You go
over all the details. After the discussion, you ask the patient if they
understood everything you said. The patient says, “Yes.” You then
ask, “Do you have any questions?” The patient says, “No.” You think
everything is fine and you send the patient home. Later in the day, you
get a call from the patient’s daughter telling you her mother isn’t sure
how to follow the treatment plan.
What happened? Everything seemed to be going well, but obviously the
patient did not understand what was being said. There are ways to prevent
this scenario from happening.
Utilize the “Chunk & Check” strategy. Break down your information into
manageable “chunks.” After each chunk is delivered discuss with the
patient their understanding.
Apply the “Repeat Back” technique with patients to be sure of
understanding. First of all, you do not want to abruptly state, “OK,
repeat back what I just said.” Rather, for example, say to the patient,
“I have given
you a lot of information. Just to be sure you feel comfortable, I would
like to know your thoughts on what we just discussed.”
You do not need to employ the repeat back technique with every patient
encounter. If you tell a patient to rest for two days you do not need to
immediately ask them to repeat what you just said. Rather, the repeat
back technique is useful for lengthy complicated matters where there would
be a high likelihood of significant confusion.
Summarize the discussion at the end of the patient meeting. There is a
famous saying among speakers and trainers that applies here, “Tell them
what you are going to tell them, tell them, and then tell them what you
told them.” If it important, say it a few times.
Concerned about how much time this process may take? If the patient does
not understand the instructions, think about how much time it will take
you to call them back or have another visit. Plus, there is a danger to the
patient’s safety if they are confused by their medical plan.
A little planning creates big rewards — safe satisfied patients.
Edward Leigh, MA, is the Founder and Director of the Center for Healthcare
Communication. To book one of his high-content CME-approved keynote
speeches or training programs, visit or call:
http://www.CommunicatingWithPatients.com or call 1-800-677-3256