Communication skills are important in everyday life, but in the medical field, these skills can be the difference between life and death. Active listening skills are critical for effective patient-centered care, especially for obtaining important medical information. Active listening shows patients that you care and establishes a foundation of trust. To be effective in a job in the medical field, you must understand the five keys elements of active listening needed in health care.
Open communication through active listening is the keystone of good health care. Active listening is a therapeutic technique that establishes trust in a health care professional-patient relationship. To begin, give the patient your undivided attention and refrain from interrupting until he is finished speaking. Ignore distracting thoughts and avoid outside distractions, including environmental factors and other people's conversations. Focus on the person to show he has your undivided attention.
Body language is just as important as what you say during a conversation. Maintain eye contact and nod at appropriate times to show you are actively engaged in what your patient has to say. Avoid crossing your arms and keep an open posture to show you are open to communication. Avoid grimaces and frowns, which can discourage patients from sharing personal information due to embarrassment. Oftentimes, patients are already scared and uncomfortable when coming to an office or medical facility. By simply touching her hand, you can encourage her to share more details about her condition.
After listening to what your patient has to say, paraphrase her comments to verify your understanding of the situation. Not only will this clear up any misconceptions you have, but it also helps to validate the patient's feelings about what she is going through. Clarify important details by asking if you have a thorough understanding of what he is saying and feeling. Ask open-ended questions to help him elaborate on key aspects you want to take note of or record in his chart. As an active listener, the most important goal is to understand what your patient is saying.
Once you have a thorough understanding of your patient’s message, withhold judgment, even if you disagree. Avoid interrupting with counterarguments, which stifle conversation and can ruin trust. Critical comments will only frustrate the patient and limit your understanding of his message. As a medical professional, it is your job to provide care and understanding without judgment of your patient’s choices and experiences.
Active listening is based on honesty, trust and understanding. Provide your professional opinion of the situation, but don’t talk down to the patient just because she doesn't have the same medical training as you have. By clarifying the patient’s message, you can help him explore other points of view. Show your empathy for the patient by treating her with respect. Always treat patients the way you would want to be treated if the situation were reversed.
Roseanne Omalacy became a published author and freelance writer in 2006. She is the author of several novels and has been published with Literary Partners Group, Alyson Publishing and "Scarlet Magazine." She is a Pittsburgh health and relationships columnist, holds a bachelor's degree in nursing from Pennsylvania State University and has over 15 years of nursing experience.