Communication is a fundamental part of our role as chiropractors. It is through effective communications that we are able to build trust and instill confidence in patients from the moment of initial enquiry right through to the end of treatment.
The Code is very clear on the importance of communicating effectively with patients to establish and maintain a professional relationship and encourage patients to take an informed role in their care. The message from the GCC’s most recent public perceptions research is also very clear – patients value good communications.
Open and transparent communications
According to the research, patients want to be fully informed before they embark on any treatment, including understanding treatment options, timescales for treatment and costs. Patients want to know what to expect so it’s important that, as practitioners, we take the time to explain how fees are charged, how long treatment may take and when a patient would expect to see a positive change to their condition.
To demonstrate our commitment to our patient’s best interests, it is also important to explain what happens if their condition does not improve as expected and what alternative steps will be taken. Most patients will want reassurance that treatment won’t continue at their expense if it is not effective.
For a patient to take an informed and active role in their treatment, they need to understand the risks and benefits specific to them. Even if we, as a practitioner, perceive the risk to be minimal, we must always make the patient aware and talk through how these risks will be mitigated.
It is our responsibility to obtain consent to care on the first visit, including ensuring patients understand both their diagnosis and expected outcome. They need a clear picture of what the treatment plan entails as well as other options for treatment (e.g. GP referral) which might be open to them. Consent must also be gained throughout individual treatment, including issues around removal of clothing, hand placement for specific techniques, clear explanation of new techniques, potential post-treatment reactions and after-care advice. By providing the right level of information at the right time, we are able to support patients to make informed decisions about their treatment and avoid misunderstandings.
One of the key insights from the public perceptions research is that patients want to be informed about their treatment options using research evidence and they want to use this information to be part of the decision-making process about their treatment. Communication using clear, non-medicalised language empowers patients to take an active role in their care.
Engaging with patients also maximises the beneficial effects of therapeutic intervention by ensuring their preferences regarding the type of treatment they receive have been taken into account.
Listening to the patient
Good communication isn’t just about talking to a patient. Taking the time to actively listen to a patient is also key to establishing a good professional relationship. It sends a strong message that the patient’s health is the priority. Two-way conversations can often lead to a deeper understanding of the patient which could impact on treatment decisions. For example, a patient may reveal past stress or trauma which amplifies their pain as is the case in conditions like fibromyalgia. In such cases, manual therapy may not be the whole solution and the patient’s treatment options need to consider wider issues. In some circumstances this may lead to difficult conversations, but they are important conversations to have to ensure we are providing holistic care addressing the entirety of the patient’s needs.
Our primary role as a chiropractor is to treat our patients, but it’s not just excellent technique and treatment plans that matters to people. Successful communication between chiropractors and patients demonstrate that we view them as individuals, consider their concerns and health goals which, overall, lead to improved patient satisfaction and better outcomes.