The Value Of Clear Communication With Patients Cannot Be Overstated
A day in the life of a physical therapist is usually quite fast paced, with busy schedules that involve treating several patients at different stages of their visit simultaneously, filling out reports, responding to calls and emails, and handling any other unexpected events that may arise. With the task of managing each of these responsibilities and maintaining an efficient practice, in some cases there may be unfortunate trade-offs that could potentially affect the quality of care being provided to patients. But this pitfall should be avoided at all costs, and patients’ wellbeing should always be the top priority.
The course of care is a multidimensional process for patients, and whether they experience a positive outcome is influenced by both direct and indirect factors. While it’s crucial that all patients undergo treatment programs that are evidence based and inclusive of the most appropriate interventions for their diagnosis, their treatment success is also largely contingent on less obvious factors, particularly the patient-therapist relationship.
How physical therapists interact with their patients is fundamental to the therapeutic process, and a strong and healthy relationship can have a significant impact on how patients perceive their care and how they react to treatment. Many patients—and therapists—believe that having clear communication is a key component of the therapy experience, and that neglecting this objective can negatively impact the course of care.
Identifying the core themes important to patient-therapist interactions
Research has supported this concept, including one systematic review and meta-analysis that investigated patients’ and therapists’ perceptions on the most important factors that influence patient-therapist interactions. From the 13 studies reviewed, four themes were identified as crucial to these interactions:
- Physical therapist interpersonal and communication skills
- Physical therapist practical skills
- Individualized patient-centered care
- Organizational and environmental factors
For the first theme on interpersonal and communication skills, both patients and therapists agreed that active listening was one of the most important qualities of a physical therapist and that it could foster a bond between the two parties. Other key qualities included empathy, friendliness, encouragement, confidence, and nonverbal communication such as physical contact and paying attention to body language. Together, having these good communication and interpersonal skills were perceived as vitally important to interaction, treatment success, and satisfaction.
In another study conducted by a physical therapist, patients with chronic low back pain underwent one of four combinations of a real or sham intervention and either an enhanced or limited interaction with the physical therapist. Results showed that although patients who had an enhanced interaction and the real treatment experienced the best outcomes, those who had an enhanced interaction and a sham treatment reported the next greatest improvement in pain intensity and threshold, which were better than the group that received actual treatment and limited interaction. The group that received limited interaction and a sham treatment reported the least change. These findings further support the importance of a positive patient interaction with their therapist.
At Applied Continuing Education (ACE), we understand the value of clear patient-therapist communication and have imbued that into our physical therapy continuing education courses. In addition to providing instruction on weight management and shoulder pain and dysfunction in our two courses, we prioritize educating our participants on how to discuss these issues with patients in a transparent, friendly, and empathic manner. This especially applies to our weight management course, as it covers a sensitive topic that some patients may be apprehensive to discuss. Therefore, we walk participants through the best approach to take on this subject and how to carefully discuss personal matters.
If you’re interested in learning more about our courses, the ACE website or contact us at 781-229-8011 or firstname.lastname@example.org.