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Clearly communicating with patients

Hospital news | Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Ashtabula county Medical Center (ACMC) nurses and providers are incorporating new methods into their interaction with patients to ensure that correct information about diagnosis and treatment is clearly communicated.

Shannon Pike, ACMC Patient Experience Director, said the new communication methods are getting positive feedback from patients.
"Often a patient is still processing information about a diagnosis while we are talking about prescriptions, other treatment options or being discharged," she said. "It can be a lot to take in. We have always worked to improve communication with patients, but the latest methods are providing more meaningful information to the patient and their families."

Inpatient methods

Medication education flashcards

When a patient is given new medications, they are also given a set of flashcards with details about the medication. The patient can use the flashcards to study at their leisure. Nurses or pharmacy staff will ask patients basic questions about the new medications to ensure they understand the purpose for taking the medication and possible side effects.

Pike said patients are more responsive with answers after they have reviewed the cards. If they hesitate with an answer, they can review the cards. Since each patient is learning more about the medication they are prescribed, future conversations with their primary care provider are more meaningful because the patient has a better understanding about what they are taking.

"It is very important that a patient communicate exactly what medication they are taking when talking to a nurse or provider," she added. "The information should be on the patient's medical record, but when a provider asks for a list of medication, they want to know what you've been taking or if you've stopped taking a medication."

Whiteboard communication

In each hospital room, nurses write information the patient and staff need to know on an erasable whiteboard. Details include the date, names of physician and nursing staff, and any goals that the patient and staff agree upon, such as pain management, testing, therapies or discharge plans.

Pike said the whiteboards give caregivers a visual summary of what has been discussed with patients. They also provide patients and family with a written reminder of what was said. "We may talk with a patient, but a family member who visits later may have further questions. The whiteboards let them know what was discussed with their loved one and what expectations are for staff and the patient."

Bedside reports

One of the newest communication methods is giving ACMC patients peace of mind when nursing shifts change. Pike said nurses are now giving patient reports at the bedside rather than during private staff meetings.

"I just had a patient tell me how much she appreciated being a part of the discussion," Pike said. "She knew what information was communicated and felt like she had more control in the conversation."

Pike added that the bedside conversations are also good for patients who can ask questions if they are unclear on diagnosis and treatment information. Patients are given peace of mind when they know what information is passed from person to person, and they are given a voice in the conversation so their thoughts and feelings are expressed.

Inpatient and outpatient methods

Whether a patient is admitted to ACMC or visiting a physician on an outpatient basis, he or she needs to understand the diagnosis and treatment options.

Pike said ACMC providers have been trained on how to use a teach-back method to ensure patients understand what they were just told. For example, if a physician prescribes three medications to a patient, the medication name, dosage and other information is given to the patient. The physician then asks the patient to repeat that information back in their own words. The teach-back method immediately alerts the provider to any misunderstood information and allows the patient to ask further questions.

Other methods of communication

Clinical care surveys

Pike said one means of patient communication comes after the patient has returned home. Patients are contacted on a random basis to complete a survey of their experience at ACMC.

"We define patient experience as all interactions that create the organizational culture and form the patients' perceptions of their care at ACMC," Pike said. "We use the information provided by the patient to reinforce the good things we do or to improve the areas where the patient has noted a problem."

Voice of the Patient

Advisory Council

For patients who want to take an even more active role in improving patient care at ACMC, a new patient advisory council is seeking members. The council meets regularly throughout the year and focuses on patient-driven discussion from former ACMC patients and family members. Pike said, "We started the Voice of the Patient Advisory Council so patients could tell us more about their experience here and work to solve any concerns alongside our caregivers."


There is another means of communicating questions, concerns or praises about patient care at ACMC—call the ombudsman.
ACMC's ombudsman will interview the patient or family member about the concern, discuss the issue with the patient (if the call originated with a family member), research the issue through patient records and departmental interviews, and inform everyone involved of the resolution.

To contact ACMC's ombudsman, call 440.997.6277 or write to Ombudsman Program, Ashtabula County Medical Center, 2420 Lake Ave., Ashtabula, OH 44004.