Patient-Centered Communication Affects Satisfaction, Quality & Patient Safety

Donna Sollenberger, EVP & CEO, UTMB Health SystemLast week’s Friday Flash Report focused on patient satisfaction, its importance, and how each of us, whatever our role at UTMB, can help to ensure that our patients have the best possible care and experience at UTMB Health.

An important component of patient satisfaction is communication. That’s why surveys such as HCAHPS (Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems) and CG-CAHPS (Clinician & Group) ask patients how well they felt doctors and nurses communicated with them during their visit. That information is then used as an indicator of the patient’s overall satisfaction with their experience. However, there is a much more important reason that patient-centered communication matters – it can affect the safety and quality of the patient’s care.

Every health care interaction depends on effective communication, from making an appointment and registering for a visit to describing symptoms, discussing risks and benefits of treatments, and understanding care instructions.

Whatever our role at UTMB, as we go through our daily routines, many of the terms we use and tasks we perform tend to become second nature, ingrained in our minds to the point that sometimes we can forget how our environment may be perceived by someone who is not familiar with our system. This is something of which we should try to be aware when communicating with our patients.

Factors such as language barriers, disabilities or health care literacy can also contribute to how a patient perceives their experience. These factors, if overlooked, can potentially compromise a patient’s health, particularly when they do not clearly understand their diagnosis or care instructions. A patient who has a hearing impairment or difficulty seeing, reading or writing may not always announce their limitations, because they may be embarrassed or too impaired to mention it at the time. However, these factors could adversely affect their care if they are unable to read the names of their medications and/or the correct dosages, etc.

Communication breakdowns, whether between care providers or between care providers and their patients, is the primary root cause of the nearly 3,000 sentinel events—unexpected deaths and catastrophic injuries—that have been reported to The Joint Commission.

That’s why we must all be committed to patient-centered communications, as leaders, managers and front line staff:

  • When speaking with our patients, even when we are busy, we should always remember that it is important to make eye contact and listen to their questions and concerns.
  • We must err on the side of caution and clearly communicate using simple language (this applies to written materials as well).
  • Encourage patients to repeat the care-related information you have explained to them to make sure that they understand what you told them.
  • When applicable, limit information to two or three important points per clinic visit.
  • Use drawings, models or devices to demonstrate points and always encourage patients to ask questions.
  • Patients should always receive an After Visit Summary (AVS), with information about all of their medications, diagnoses, test results and plans for follow-up care, as well as physician and clinic contact information.

Simply striving for patient-centered communication can make a big difference in the health and wellness of our patients! Please remember that there are also services available to assist you, such as UTMB’s Patient Services & Language Assistance programs.

What are you doing to improve communication with patients? What techniques are you using that have improved communication?  I would love to hear from you this week about what you and your colleagues are doing to improve communication with our patients. Please send these examples to me at, and I will share your examples in future issues of Friday Flash Report.

Next week’s topic: MyChart