How to Communicate to Hospital Patients Effectively


Identify any barriers to effective communication. For instance, when you first talk to the patient determine if there are any language barriers. Many health care facilities can arrange for an interpreter. Determine if the patient has a medical condition, such as dementia, which may interfere with communication. Having a family member present while you talk to a patient with dementia may help. Identifying barriers allows you to develop ways to overcome them.


Speak in terms a patient can understand. Different patients may have different levels of understanding. This does not mean you have to talk down to a patient. However, a patient who is elderly and hard of hearing may need you to speak slowly. Also a patient who is dealing with a recent diagnosis may feel overwhelmed by all the information. Being clear and concise, without using complicated medical terminology, is best in this situation.


Listen to a patient's questions and answers. Communication is a two-way street. Although you may have information you want to convey to your patient, listening is part of the job. Take the needed time to hear your patients, and avoid interrupting. Rushing through a conversation may prevent you from really hearing what your patient has to say.


Watch for nonverbal communication. Look at your patient for signs he is understanding what you are saying. Watch facial expressions. If a patient looks confused, ask him if he has questions or understands what you are saying.


Be compassionate. Patients in a hospital not only are ill, they may be scared, depressed and feel vulnerable. Keep in mind a patient is more than a disease. Make eye contact, which may help a patient feel you are interested in the conversation. Always answer questions honestly and be respectful.

Tips and Warnings

  • Consider writing down complicated information and instructions. Medical information can be complex and having written information to refer back to can help a patient recall what you discussed.Keep cultural differences in mind. Not all cultures believe in all types of medical care. Respect differences, and learn from the patient what he or she finds acceptable.
  • Communication is one of the most important skills a medical professional can have. Doctors, nurses, medical technicians and many other types of medical workers all may need to communicate with patients at some time. Effective communication helps patients answer questions appropriately, which may help with a diagnosis. It also helps a patient understand her medical condition. Failure to communicate effectively with a patient may lead to a misunderstanding and non-compliance with recommended treatment.