Match Communication to Individual Patients

The words you speak to patients may get interpreted differently than you intended.

Risk Management

Match Communication to Individual Patients

No two patients will respond alike to your communications. The words you speak and how you speak them may get interpreted differently than you intended based upon each individual patient's background.


Try this experiment. Ask several people to draw a picture of a dog, and chances are you’ll get several different looking creatures. One person may sketch a playful Shih Tzu, another a mischievous pug. One thing is certain: No two will be exactly alike.

This is because words get interpreted differently based upon each receiver’s experiences – a fact that’s important to keep in mind when communicating to individual patients.

Just like patients will draw different pictures of dogs, no two patients will respond alike to your communications. The words you speak and how you speak them may get interpreted differently than you intended based upon each individual patient’s background. Here are some tips to help you communicate with your patients more effectively.

Sure, you may have a laid-back personality and a relaxed relationship with your office staff. They “get you.” But not all of your patients may share your sense of humor.

Engaging in camaraderie by telling stories and jokes can turn ugly if spoken to the wrong person or at the wrong time. What’s funny to one person may be viewed as offensive to another. The point is to be careful that you don’t cross over the line of inappropriateness that may lead to a boundary violation.

As a reminder, anything you say may show up on YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter or other social media sites. Worse yet, it might end up residing in an attorney’s office. The best advice is to be cautious about what you say and share—without being overly colorful.

Be Aware of Cultural Differences

You probably have patients from communities and nations that you had never heard of 10 years ago or maybe couldn’t even pronounce. D.C.s must be aware of their patients’ cultural differences and mindful not only of their word choices, but also with their attire, linguistics and even electronic communication.

Communicating with Different Generations

With five generations comingled in present society, it’s more difficult to ensure that the message delivered is the one received. Think about how each of your patients typically communicates. Generation Xers tend to text and email whereas baby boomers and older patients generally prefer personal interaction. It never hurts to ask each patient how they’d like to receive messages about appointment reminders, treatment instructions, etc.

While no two people even from the same generation or the same cultural background are going to be exactly alike, it’s still important to consider demographic differences when communicating. More important, take the time to get to know each of your patient’s individual communication styles and preferences. That way you’ll have a better chance of getting your point across and having it interpreted correctly.

The information in the NCMIC Learning Center is offered solely for general information and educational purposes. It is not offered as, nor does it represent, legal or professional advice. Neither does this information constitute a guideline, practice parameter or standard of care. You should not act or rely upon this information without seeking the advice of an attorney familiar with the specific legal requirements of the state(s) in which you practice. If there is a discrepancy between the site and an insurance policy you have with NCMIC, the policy will prevail.