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How to Have Patient Conversations that Boost Compliance

The goal for life sciences professionals who interact with patients and their families should be simple for every interaction: Make sure they understand what’s going on, so they feel understood and ultimately the patient is compliant. That’s it.

Many patients, however, are treated medically, by prescription or device, without anyone taking time to explain what’s happening. As a result, patients are often confused and unsure of what they should be doing. What’s more, they don’t feel heard.

This lack of communication invariably leads to poor compliance and less than ideal patient outcomes. Whether you interact with patients (and families) as part of a sales, marketing or customer service team, it’s up to you to help them understand what’s going on.

When patients feel real compassion from you, when their questions are answered, and when they feel heard, and they understand what you are saying, they will be more compliant. To get there, you’ll need to pay close attention to the way you listen and the way you communicate.

Empathetic Listening
It’s all too common today for life sciences professionals to rush through patient interactions. You may live and breathe your therapies and medical devices every day, but to patients and their families, those products are new, confusing and often scary – is a massive barrier to understanding.

Make patients feel comfortable by practicing empathetic listening. This is the ability to demonstrate empathy by sensing others’ emotions — and relating to what they’re experiencing.

Here are four concrete ways to listen with empathy:

1. Take your time.Resist the tendency to speed through patient conversations.
2. Avoid nonverbal cues that say you’re not interested: eye-rolling, sighing, typing on your computer or tablet, moving in a rushed manner and/or avoiding eye contact.
3. Look the patient in the eye, nod periodically and use friendly facial expressions. In other words, show that you’re paying attention to what the patient says.
4. Allow the patient to speak without interruption and focus on understanding where they’re coming from.

All these reminders also apply to your conversations with family members. Remember, patients and their families just want to feel heard. A little empathy goes a long way to get them fully on board for successful treatment.

Compassionate Communication
If you’ve done a good job at empathetic listening, then you’ll understand what information the patient (or family member) doesn’t know. Now it’s time for you to fill in the gaps and answer questions the patient might not even know to ask.

When you’re doing the talking, it’s imperative to project your message in a clear, compelling, and compassionate way. Here are four strategies to speak with patients and their families:

1. Speak in a way that they understand. Avoid medical terminology, acronyms or other jargon patients and their family members may not know.
2. Prompt them to tell you more. Ask open-ended questions like, “What else do you need to know? I want to ensure that I was clear” instead of yes-or-no questions like, “Is that clear?”
3. Paraphrase what the patient or family member says for clarification. Repeating their main points or concerns is an effective way to demonstrate compassion and understanding.
4. Deliver your message in a calm, helpful tone. Avoid using a tone that sounds rushed, bored or exasperated.

When it comes to having patient conversations that boost compliance, it’s a best practice to put yourself in the patient’s shoes. We can all probably recall a time when lack of empathy or communication had a negative impact on medical treatment for us, either as the patient or as a member of the patient’s family.

For example, when my husband underwent chemotherapy, the doctor failed to explain the full chemo process to us. We were blindsided when my husband’s chemo was pushed back due to low white blood cell counts. We had never even been told this was a possibility. This led to a huge upset in our family schedule, since we had rearranged our calendars based on a major false assumption. The result was that we felt distrustful, confused and angry.

Whether it’s a physician preemptively explaining the role of white blood cells in chemotherapy, or a medical device professional listening intently to the concerns of a new patient, these conversations are vital to making the patient and their family members feel informed and understood.

Whenever you’re interacting with a patient and/or family member, remember that empathetic listening and compassionate communication make for more compliance — and better outcomes.

Marjorie Brody is founder & CEO of BRODY Professional Development and a 2019 inductee into the LTEN Hall of Fame. Email Marjorie at

LTEN Conference Workshop

Want to learn more about patient conversations? Join Marjorie Brody for a workshop at the 48th LTEN Annual Conference, June 3-6, 2019. At 4 p.m. on Tuesday, June 4, Marjorie delivers her workshop, “Having Patient Conversations to Boost Understanding & Compliance,” in the Fort Worth 6-7 room.

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