Communication: Let Me Count the Ways

by Donna Weinstock 

When we think of “Communication” we think of words and about saying something to another person. The truth is verbiage is really just a small part of communication. Communication can be tone of voice, inflections and body language. It is so easy to misinterpret a person’s meaning when the communication is not expressed properly.

What we say is as important as how we say it. Here are some examples of how using different words or phrases can have a more positive effect on the communication and the patient you are speaking to:

  1. When we call a patient to confirm their appointment, it is more appropriate to say “confirm” rather than “remind”. When you remind a patient that he/she has an upcoming appointment, you imply they might forget the appointment. Confirming the appointment will suggest you want to verify the date and time.
  2. If the practice needs to change an appointment, it is better to say that you want to “reschedule” or “change” an appointment. By telling the patient you want to “cancel” his appointment, you leave the option of not setting a new time.
  3. When a patient wants to speak with the physician, it is always better to say that the doctor is with a patient, rather than the doctor is busy. It is a much more positive word choice.
  4. If a patient calls and you are not certain if they have been seen before, it is better to ask if they are a “former” patient, rather than an “old” patient. Patients often are touchy about their age. There is no reason to add the word “old” to the conversation. Your goal is to make the patient feel comfortable.
  5. What happens when a patient is upset? The phraseology is an important part of diffusing potentially difficult situations. Some of the phrases that might be used are:
  • “I understand your frustration”
  • “It must be very difficult for you”
  • “What can I do to help you?”
  • “Let me see if I understand what you are saying” and then repeat what the patient said to you
  1. Your body language has the potential to speak volumes. How you sit, how you stand and even how you shake hands implies your interest.
  • Look the patient in the eye when addressing him. If you are looking down or at your computer, there is the feeling that the patient is not important. Lean slightly forward in your chair. This suggests interest in the person you are speaking to.
  • Refrain from tapping your foot or something in your hand as you speak to a patient. This implies impatience.
  • When you are in the exam room with the patient, don’t keep your hand on the door knob. This too implies impatience. The goal is to always make the patient feel he has your full attention.
  1. Not all communication is visual. When a patient is on the telephone, he can’t see your face or how you are sitting. All he has is the tone and inflection of your voice. Make sure you sound friendly, interested and pleasant. The last thing you want a patient to hear is a rude voice on the other end of the line.
  2. Some practices engage in email. It is essential to use a computer that is encrypted to insure that the message is secure. The written word can’t be changed or deleted. Therefore it is important to monitor what you write and how you phrase your message.
  3. Another aspect of communication is social media. As practices move to include Facebook, Twitter and other social media sites, they must monitor what is written by the practice and by others about the practice. A practice will want the site to be professional, responsive and informative. Your practice is communicating with the outside world and you never know who will read what has been written.

We all know that excellent customer service is the key to caring for our patients. Keeping your patients happy and feeling important to your practice is will improve patient satisfaction. The key is open and honest communication that allows the patient to know that you are listening and hearing them. It is also the ability to let the patient know that you understand and are interested in both him and his well being.

The communication you have with a patient sets the tone for the encounter. Whether you communicate in person, on the telephone or in writing say what you want to say, but watch how you say it. It is as much what the person hears or interprets as what you mean. In this case, perception is reality. Train your staff to articulate, show interest and communicate exactly what you want said.


Donna Weinstock is President of Office Management Solution. She is a speaker writer and consultant for healthcare practices with more than 30 years in the industry.  She can be contacted at  Efficiency in Practice is the free eNewsletter for medical practice managers who want to save time, money and reduce risk.  For more information and to access your FREE report, Patient Collections: It’s Make or Break for Many Practices, visit 

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