In the healthcare industry, the ability to communicate effectively is considered an invaluable asset and a core competency. As a matter of fact, strong communication skills among healthcare practitioners are integral and can have a profound effect on the delivery of high-quality care, and consequently, to the patients’ biological, physiological, psycho-social and emotional well-being.
Among these communication skills that are crucial especially in patient-centered care is active listening. Unfortunately, while deemed vital, this skill does not come inherently to most of us, and is often neglected and even rarely taught in traditional medical education.
What is active listening?
Active listening pertains to the conscious effort of giving undivided attention to thoroughly absorb and comprehend what another individual is trying to convey. It involves listening, making sense of, and responding meaningfully to verbal messages, while being attentive at the same time to nonverbal cues such as body movement and posture, facial expressions, eye contact, tone, and emphasis.
For healthcare professionals, being in the moment and placing all attention and awareness at the disposal of the patient and/or his family members is critical in enhancing patient care, ensuring their safety, and improving patient outcomes and satisfaction. Active listening in clinical practice, however, is quite complex and requires practice, dedication, intellectual and emotional focus, consistency and hard work.
Your patients know when you do listen and, more likely than not, they will also refer you to their family and friends knowing that you don’t just rush patients in an appointment. This is another indirect way to manage your reputation.
Why is active listening essential to patient care?
Most of the time, patients tend to feel anxious and apprehensive about their health status. Nevertheless, listening attentively and responding empathically to patients is one of the fool-proof ways to quickly build a rapport with them. It will eventually help them feel comfortable to reveal and share pertinent medical information.
Further, demonstrating the ability and willingness to focus on and listen to them, without interruption and distraction, will likely make patients feel that they are well-understood and can speak freely without any judgement.
Over time, this will help establish trust and encourage them to be engaged with their clinician as much as possible. Having a strong clinician-patient relationship will also increase the probability getting a patient to follow through with the recommended plan of care.
Active listening is a way of recognizing the inherent knowledge that patients have about their health status. In fact, it helps healthcare providers in gathering and probing appropriate medical information that are essential to ensure an accurate and timely clinical diagnosis.
It lessens the chances of erroneous treatment plans that are based solely on the clinician’s own assumptions. Instead, it enables patients to be involved in the decision-making process.
Lending an ear and giving complete attention to patients offers relief from stress and anxiety that might be exacerbated by their illness. It makes them feel that they are being treated with humanity, dignity and respect. Contrariwise, the lack of effective listening may cause heightened anxiety, mistrust and other psycho-social issues that could be detrimental to the patient’s health and well-being.
The ability to listen attentively, draw out information and empathize can definitely have a significant effect to the patient’s well-being. While considered one of the most underrated skills, genuine active listening will help clinicians to engage fully with patients, make better clinical decisions and create exceptional patient experience. It has been proven to be an effective psycho-social care that can improve patient health outcomes and ultimately their quality of life.
How do you create that personal connection with patients/clients?