Patient-centred approaches to healthcare are highly important in English-speaking countries. A huge part of this is what experts call Active Listening.
It can be hard to tell the difference between active and passive listening techniques if you have not been trained on them.
Let’s take a look at both non-patient and patient-centred communication as well as how to actively listen to your patients.
Non-patient centred approaches to listening will lead you to ask closed questions, such as:
- ‘have you had these symptoms before?’
- ‘did you take any medication to stop the pain?’
Patients are expected to respond with short answers which confirm the diagnosis the healthcare professional has already decided.
In countries where healthcare is patient-centred, healthcare professionals ask open questions which allow the patient to explain the situation in their own words and sometimes at length. Open questions include things like:
- ‘Can you tell me more about your symptoms?’
- ‘Is there anything you think might have caused your current condition?’
The healthcare professional might already have an opinion about the cause but is prepared to have this confirmed or denied by listening to the patient’s explanation.
How to actively listen to your patient
If this is unfamiliar to you, you may be unsure how to actively listen to your patient. Here are four suggestions:
1. Give them your full attention. Look them in the eye. Turn your body towards them and away from your computer screen or notes.
2. While the patient is talking, show them you are listening by using appropriate gestures or ‘noises’: mmhmm, OK, I see, nodding or shaking your head etc.
3. Don’t interrupt the patient. Allow them to finish so you don’t cut them off from including anything important.
4. When they have finished, demonstrate you have been listening by asking a follow-up question or making an appropriate response:
- ‘Did you talk to your family about how you were feeling?’; or
- ‘I’m sorry to hear that’.
Your patient knows if you’re not listening
It will be really obvious to your patient if you weren’t listening while they are talking because you will likely say something inappropriate when they stop e.g.
- Patient: I haven’t slept properly since my bag was stolen as I walked home from work 2 weeks ago.
- Healthcare professional: Can you think of any reason why you’re not sleeping properly?
The result of this type of exchange between patient and professional will make the patient feel confused and unimportant.
OET Assessors want to hear you demonstrate active listening
Active listening is something the assessor will be listening out for in the speaking test. Candidates often struggle to listen actively to the patient in the role-play because they are re-reading their role-card or planning what they want to say next. That they haven’t been listening is then really noticeable to both their patient (interlocutor) and the assessor and this will affect their score.
Make sure you don’t fall into this trap.
Listen actively and show the patient that what they say is important to you.
If you would like to know more about active listening or would like