Working With Diverse Patients:
Tips For Successful Patient Encounters:
To enhance patient/provider communication and to avoid being
unintentionally insulting or patronizing, be aware of the
Styles of Speech:
People vary greatly in length of time
between comment and response, the speed of their speech, and
their willingness to interrupt.
- Tolerate gaps between questions and answers, impatience can be seen as a sign of disrespect.
- Listen to the volume and speed of the patient’s speech as well as the content. Modify your own speech to more closely match that of the patient to make them more comfortable.
- Rapid exchanges, and even interruptions, are a part of some conversational styles. Don’t be offended if no offense is intended when a patient interrupts you.
- Stay aware of your own pattern of interruptions, especially if the patient is older than you are.
The way people interpret various types of eye
contact is tied to cultural background and life experience.
- Most Euro-Americans expect to look people directly in the eyes and interpret failure to do so as a sign of dishonesty or disrespect.
- For many other cultures direct gazing is considered rude or disrespectful. Never force a patient to make eye contact with you.
- If a patient seems uncomfortable with direct gazes, try sitting next to them instead of across from them.
Sociologists say that 80% of communication
is non-verbal. The meaning of body language varies greatly by
culture, class, gender, and age.
Gently Guide Patient Conversation:
- Follow the patient’s lead on physical distance and touching. If the patient moves closer to you or touches you, you may do the same. However, stay sensitive to those who do not feel comfortable, and ask permission to touch them.
- Gestures can mean very different things to different people. Be very conservative in your own use of gestures and body language. Ask patients about unknown gestures or reactions.
- Do not interpret a patient’s feelings or level of pain just from facial expressions. The way that pain or fear is expressed is closely tied to a person’s cultural and personal background.
English predisposes us
to a direct communication style, however other languages and
- Initial greetings can set the tone for the visit. Many older people from traditional societies expect to be addressed more formally, no matter how long they have known their physician. If the patient’s preference is not clear, ask how they would like to be addressed.
- Patients from other language or cultural backgrounds may be less likely to ask questions and more likely to answer questions through narrative than with direct responses. Facilitate patient-centered communication by asking open-ended questions whenever possible.
- Avoid questions that can be answered with “yes” or “no.” Research indicates that when patients, regardless of cultural background, are asked, “Do you understand,” many will answer, “yes” even when they really do not understand. This tends to be more common in teens and older patients.
- Steer the patient back to the topic by asking a question that clearly demonstrates that you are listening. Some patients can tell you more about their health through story telling than by answering direct questions.