Being an outstanding communicator is an extremely important characteristic that every medical assistant should possess. This is because medical assistants communicate with almost everybody within a healthcare facility setting.
Medical assistants often talk to patients and family members about symptoms, patient concerns, treatment, patient safety, and the overall healthcare process.
It is also their job to communicate effectively and relay medical information to other healthcare professionals in a medical setting, such as nurses, doctors, and specialists.
This article will cover some of the key aspects to keep in mind when communicating as a medical assistant. It will cover valuable information and helpful tips around listening, verbal and nonverbal communication, as well as how to properly and effectively communicate with both patients and fellow healthcare providers.
Building Strong Interpersonal Communication Skills
Having the natural ability to effortlessly communicate with others is a good foundation for the interpersonal skills needed to succeed as a medical assistant. It is the most important part of the medical assistant’s job as it helps initiate and sustain very important relationships with all of those involved.
Regardless of one’s natural ability to communicate effectively, it is always important to practice good communication skills and improve wherever possible.
Active listening can be defined as the communication practice where the listener actively participates in the full uptake of information being delivered to them by another person.
It requires the full attention of the listener to notice and sincerely understand all that is being said and unsaid without attaching assumed meaning.
In nonverbal communication, the listener is to be mindful of their body language and nonverbal cues during and outside of speaking.
It is also important to be observant of the body language of others but to not make any assumptions about the meaning of it.
Tips for active listening:
- Actively participate and show interest in the conversation
- Mentally note any nonverbal cues and body language
- Maintain a good level of eye contact
- Be mindful of your own body and facial expressions
- Ask open-ended questions to encourage conversation
- Repeat the summarized information back to the speaker
- Be non-judgmental and supportive of the speaker
Maintaining a high level of verbal communication is a very important skill as it helps avoid misunderstandings and conflict. Medical assistants must always speak clearly and concisely as making mistakes could be very serious and even life-threatening. This is especially so when communicating with doctors and nurses.
Tips for effective verbal communication:
- Read your audience and adjust to their style of communication
- Think carefully about what you want to say and avoid being vague
- Use concise language with as few filler words as possible
- Be aware of speed, tone, and clarity
- Ask questions to gauge the listener’s understanding
- Rephrase the message and clarify important points
There will be times when medical assistants must communicate with patients from other countries that may speak a different language.
To overcome language barriers, medical assistants can:
- Use informative diagrams and universal symbols
- Use translation apps in time-sensitive cases
- Create a database of patient care printouts in different languages
- Involve a professional translator with knowledge of medicine
- Avoid relying on family members to translate
Nonverbal communication is the process in which information is exchanged without the use of words or voice. It is often implicit although not always unintentional.
Understanding and practicing good nonverbal communication skills is essential because it relays subtle information that is left out from being explicitly said. This information can be very impactful and can have negative effects on the listener.
Nonverbal communication is also a two-way street where medical assistants must pick up on the nonverbal cues of patients while ensuring that they are not displaying negative body language when speaking.
Examples of nonverbal communication include:
- Eye contact (e.g. looking down or away)
- Facial expressions (e.g. smiling)
- Nervousness (e.g. shaking)
- Posture (e.g. arms crossed)
- Proximity to others (e.g. standing close or far away)
- Body movements (e.g. hand and head gesturing)
Oftentimes, it can be easy to forget that our bodies relay messages that we don’t intend. To limit unintended communication, it is good to be aware of our body language and to practice the following:
- Control facial expressions and limit gestures
- Be intentional with body language and know how to implement it
- Make sure body movement matches what is being said
- Do not stare or look away but use intervals of eye contact
- Have an open, welcoming body posture and smile if appropriate
Communicating with Patients
Medical assistant communication with patients plays a crucial role in the patient’s overall care experience.
Because they spend a lot of time with the patient taking their blood pressure, monitoring vital signs, running diagnostic tests, completing medical records, etc., they must establish a level of therapeutic communication to put the patient at ease.
When a patient feels secure and respected through a therapeutic relationship with medical professionals, it can make the overall diagnostic and treatment process far smoother and more effective.
Empathy and Compassion
Practicing empathy and compassion while engaging in patient communication is essential to gaining the trust and cooperation of patients.
Oftentimes, patients can be on edge and feel scared in doctor’s offices or hospital settings. It’s up to the medical assistant working with them to be empathetic and compassionate to help them feel cared for and assured.
Empathy can be defined as the ability to understand and even feel the negative feelings of another person. Compassion can be defined as concern and sympathy for others having a negative experience.
To show more empathy when talking with patients, medical assistants can:
- Actively listen to patients’ concerns without interrupting
- Ask questions to understand the person’s situation
- Put themselves in the patient’s shoes
- Identify with them by sharing personal experiences
- Identify personal biases and be accepting of disagreement
Patient education is a large part and one of the key responsibilities of medical assisting. It is imperative that patients feel like active recipients of their health care and not ignored.
Discussing illnesses, treatment, patient concerns and other important aspects of patient care is foundational in establishing patient agency and informed consent.
The doctor assigned to the case does not always have the time or capacity to establish a relationship with the patient. This is where the specialized communication skills of medical assistants come into play.
To practice effective patient education, medical assistants must:
- Know their audience and adapt to different learning styles
- Provide easy-to-read brochures or educational videos
- Provide group classes for patients with similar conditions
- Encourage questions and active conversation from patients and family members
Active Communication During Procedures
Patients can become very nervous during procedures and could accidentally move, causing injury to themselves or their healthcare provider.
Communication during procedures can immensely reduce anxiety and can even help with pain reduction and improved recovery.
Active communication during medical procedures can also help the patient feel like an active participant in their care.
Techniques for effective communication during procedures include:
- Keeping calm, being aware of tone, and limiting body movements
- Asking the patient if they would like to be talked through the procedure
- Updating the patient on the status of the procedure and providing positive reassurance
- Distract the patient by engaging in light-hearted conversation, asking them to complete mental/physical tasks, putting on music or a movie
Communicating with Healthcare Providers
Because healthcare is often collaborative, medical assistants need to be professional with their colleagues and their superiors at all times. When professionalism is lost, room for miscommunication and misunderstanding increases which is problematic for patient care and can even be dangerous.
Workplace professionalism can be defined as the act of conducting oneself with authenticity and integrity within a work environment regardless of profession. It includes being responsible and taking full accountability for one’s actions, as well as communicating respectfully and effectively with others.
To promote professionalism within healthcare, medical assistants should:
- Respect authority and follow protocols
- Be respectful of all opinions and disagreements
- Promote conflict resolution
- Use appropriate language
- Be on time and presentable
- Limit talk about personal life
- Have a good work ethic and positive attitude
Clear and Concise Communication
Due to the serious nature and level of responsibility found within the medical field, healthcare providers must listen carefully and practice effective communication.
Those working in medical assisting should promote clear and concise communication between all of those involved in patient health care by demonstrating the following skills:
- Being direct and using straightforward language
- Not making assumptions about understanding
- Being aware of tone and body language
- Repeating information and asking closed questions
- Keeping written records of communication for reference
- Keeping conversations professional and avoiding criticism
Because patient health care involves more than one person, it is beneficial to establish an open line of communication between everyone involved. Creating a space for open and respectful communication amongst healthcare workers can lead to better problem-solving skills and a higher level of patient care.
Some strategies to promote effective collaboration are:
- Have formal group meetings with all involved
- Take notes that everyone can access for reference at a later point
- Avoid criticism and promote harmonious communication
- Ensure everyone involved is up to date on recent changes
- Use technology to create a primary communication channel
- Keep patient care at the core of collaboration
If you possess the natural ability to communicate effectively and the desire to consistently improve on various forms of communication within a doctor’s office or hospital setting, then you may be well suited for a career in medical assisting.
Although there are many other duties involved with the job, the position largely centers around being a great communicator with everyone involved in the collaborative efforts of high-quality patient care.
Good medical assisting communication always includes:
- Active listening and engagement
- The mastering of verbal and nonverbal communication methods
- The ability to effortlessly communicate with patients
- Great soft skills which promote compassion and empathy
- Comprehensive and effective patient education
- Good communication during medical procedures
- Workplace professionalism
- Clear and concise methods of communicating with other healthcare workers
- Promotion and management of collaborative communication
What are the essential communication skills for medical assistants?
There are many skills that medical assistants need to be effective communicators, however, the top two medical assisting skills are good listening skills and the perfected use of verbal and non-verbal communication.
How can a medical assistant improve their nonverbal communication?
The key to ultimately improving nonverbal communication is through understanding body language. Medical assistants must pick up on and note the body cues of their patients while keeping in mind how their body acts. They must try to limit involuntary reactions and adjust their body to the conversation.