The long-awaited COVID-19 vaccine has been released, with emergency approval from the FDA. Healthcare workers and those over age 75 are already getting the first dose of the two-dose vaccine. NBC News has reported that many doctors are bracing for patients clamoring to get vaccinated as soon as possible. Other doctors are getting ready to talk with patients skeptical about the safety and effectiveness of the vaccine. Physicians who have a lot of experience talking to vaccine-hesitant patients say that asking questions and listening can be the most important aspect of communication. Once they know where a patient is coming from, they can provide more meaningful patient education.
Additionally, the CDC has released guidance for doctors offering patient education. Doctors can also find scripts to help guide them through what may be a delicate conversation. Since the COVID-19 vaccine is brand-new, doctors (and their patients) will benefit from having a plan for effective communication around the vaccine.
Why Communication Is Key With The COVID-19 Vaccine
Good communication between doctors and patients has always been vital. Patients need to be able to trust that their doctors are making the best recommendations. As in any other relationship, doctors earn that trust by listening to the concerns of their patients and responding to them clearly, respectfully, and truthfully. As we find ourselves in a moment of polarization and misinformation, calm, respectful communication is more important than ever. Patients will have more medical concerns than usual. In addition, many people are feeling more anxious or depressed than ever before. Doctors need to take these factors into consideration while planning how to communicate about the COVID-19 vaccine.
The modern model of patient care is more focused on a partnership model. Older models were more paternalistic and emphasized doing what the doctor said. Now, people expect to exercise agency and control over medical decisions. They want good information so they can make informed decisions.
Why is communication important in healthcare?
A successful communication strategy has many important benefits for both physicians and patients.
- Both parties build a sense of trust, and patients have a greater sense of control over their medical care. Among patients who feel a sense of control over their medical care, 76% report feeling “very satisfied” with their care. Exercising agency decreases people’s feelings of distress.
- Patients are more likely to follow their doctors’ recommendations when they know how and, especially, why protocols are in place. Providing education helps patients trust doctors more.
- As doctors speak with their patients about concerns and document the concerns, they learn more about how their patients think. This will enable them to provide better care in the future.
- Everyone feels more satisfied with outcomes. As doctors communicate more, patients are more likely to collaborate in their care. This leads to a higher sense of satisfaction for patients. Physicians feel less burn out because patients are active in their own care.
Tips For Talking To Patients About the COVID-19 Vaccine
Now on to making a communication plan for your practice! We expect that the basics of our tips are already in place at your office. We just need to update and tailor communication for the COVID-19 vaccine.
Be sure to prepare for patients with a variety of backgrounds and health histories. Everyone has experienced the pandemic in different ways. Staff should be prepared to communicate with people from many different cultural, educational, and health backgrounds.
It may be helpful to prepare for the fact that a sizable population of patients will not want the COVID-19 vaccine. Some will be skeptical of vaccines in general. Others will have read articles online that scared them. Or maybe they have family and friends who have given them inaccurate information. The Ask-Tell-Ask method of communicating with patients can be very effective at increasing vaccine acceptance.
A warm and empathetic tone will be helpful to receptionists delivering information to clients both in person and over the phone. Asking questions, as appropriate, to understand a patient’s hesitations around the vaccine wilI promote trust, while also giving staff the information they need to better understand the patient. Is there a particular article or website they read? Maybe they’re worried about how fast the vaccine was developed and approved. Truly understanding patient concerns begins and ends with active listening. Documenting this information can reveal trends and further prepare staff for conversations with patients.
Remember to use language that is accessible to the patient. Not everyone understands technical language or the vernacular that a healthcare professional uses. People can feel belittled to have another person speaking in terms they don’t understand. By the same token, the line between being mindful of accessibility and sounding a bit condescending can be fine. As a professional in the medical field, you probably have some experience with this and know that clear language and a respectful tone is key. When in doubt, leave room for follow up questions to make sure your patient understands.
One last piece of advice: Be as transparent as possible about what you know and what you don’t. Speak only about what you know. If you are a staff member and come across a patient with a question you don’t know the answer to, tell them you are making a note for a nurse or doctor to follow up with an answer. In the meantime, have a list of resources people can access from home. Offer to email or text them to the patient. If the patient is not comfortable with technology, ask if they have a friend or family member who can help them access the information.
Remember that good communication in a healthcare setting can literally save lives. When people have good information and build trust with their doctors, they are much more likely to follow recommendations. In an evolving situation like the COVID-19 pandemic, being clear about what you know, what you don’t, and pointing people to good resources is absolutely critical.
And for those moments when you need a break or aren’t in a position to deliver compassionate communication, Ruby has your back. Our HIPAA-compliant virtual reception and live chat services can address caller and website visitors questions so you can focus on your patients.