Having meaningful conversations with a patient face-to-face is fast becoming a rarity in this time of advanced technology. With Wi-Fi-ready gadgets available to patients, they readily communicate with someone in the outside world, which is actually good for them. They can connect with family and friends through texts, emails, chat, and video calls. But once they put their phones down, they are left on their own. And this tells a totally different story.
In nursing homes, loneliness and isolation are common problems in older adults. Older patients are not so keen on using mobile phones to communicate. They are more comfortable with personal interactions.
Some patients have confusion and memory issues. Others experience pain and bodily weakness, making communication more difficult. Because of these situations, interacting with the patient in a deeper sense pose a big challenge to CNAs.
If you are tempted to just go through the motions of your tasks and forego talking with patients, be careful not to fall for this mistake.
Are you facing the same dilemma? Do you find connecting with patients an extra burden?
Engaging patients in meaningful conversations is a very sincere act of caring. It shows that you do listen and are truly interested in their wellbeing. As a result, they express their thoughts and feelings more comfortably. It builds and strengthens trust. It leads to a better patient experience.
The advantages do not stop here. Taking your conversations beyond ‘hi’ and ‘hello’ make the patient feel valued and heard. They feel good about themselves and the world in general. It reduces loneliness and isolation, too. All these positive outcomes improve the patient’s physical, mental, and emotional health.
How to have meaningful conversations with patients
1. Be an active listener.
While talking is a vital factor in any conversation, listening is just as important. In order for patients to feel heard, you should be able to reflect back what they have just said, and this requires attentive listening. This way, they feel well understood.
2. Use open-ended questions to start conversations.
Make it a habit to ask questions that encourage the patient to talk more. Avoid questions that are answerable by only ‘yes’ or ‘no’. Start your question with “What do you think of…” “Tell me about…”
3. Encourage the patient to share what's important to them.
The topic could be about the patient’s family, their former jobs, and the things that they enjoy. Talk about their favorite TV shows. If the patient loves sports and their game was just aired, ask something like, “What do you think of the game tonight?”
4. Find a common interest.
Being on the same page as your patient will make your conversation spontaneous and fun. And who said you can’t have fun? As long as the focus is on the patient, you can both enjoy the interaction.
5. Avoid giving your opinion.
One thing to remember about making conversations with patients is that it should be purposeful. The aim is to help patients express themselves so that they are the center of attention. Your opinion will not be helpful in this regard. Instead, ask about the patient’s thoughts on the matter and respect their views.
6. Never discuss your personal life and problems.
Again, bear in mind that you are the person helping your patient and not the other way around. If you start talking about yourself, that is a sign that you've crossed boundaries.
7. Start a conversation during baths, daily walks, and other lengthy procedures.
Many CNAs are hesitant to spend precious time engaging with patients because of their many pending tasks. You probably mutter to yourself, “Who’d have the time for a chat?”
In the real world of patient care, this is quite understandable. What you can do is to take advantage of time-consuming activities to initiate a conversation.
8. If the patient does not want your company and refuses to talk, ask what you can do for them.
Sometimes, as much as we like to get your patient to talk, they really prefer to be left alone. And this not always a problem. We have to learn how to respect their need for privacy and space. You can still offer your help in other ways.
9. When your patient asks sensitive questions, focus on their feelings.
For example, a patient asks, “Am I going to die?”
It’s not your place to answer them directly primarily because it’s only the nurse or physician who can discuss such issues. What you can do instead is ask about their feelings: “Do you feel scared? Tell me how you feel.” Acknowledge your patient’s emotions. Say ‘I’m sorry that you’re upset.”
10. Wrap it up.
Say, “Thank you for chatting with me. It’s time well spent.”
Patients always long for sincerity in every aspect of their care, and what’s a better way of showing it than by engaging them in meaningful conversations!
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