10 reasons why your communication skills as physiotherapist should be excellent

Every physiotherapist does it all day: talking with his clients. Asking questions, listening, explaining things, coaching, motivating, deciding together. Almost every physiotherapist will agree that communication is important. Nevertheless, there is quite a lot of scientific research that shows that we may not do this very well. For example, shared decision making is considered important by most of us, but in daily practice we don’t really make decisions together with our clients (Dierckx, 2013). Or using guidelines; often our own beliefs hinder us in adhering to the guidelines in case of the psycho-social aspects of it. Our communication (about pain) is probably mainly bio and less bio-psycho-social (Rutten, 2016).

Excellent communication skills

Therefore, in this first post on this site, I’ll give you 10 good reasons why you should have excellent communication skills as a physiotherapist. As I’m a Dutch physiotherapist, writing in English is quite new for me. So excuse me if my grammar or spelling is poor. Here they come.

1. Your treatment becomes more effective

Each form of treatment consists in part of the so-called placebo effect. The placebo effect depends partly on to what extent the client trusts his healthcare provider. That actually works very simply: if your client trusts you (that is: he has a positive view of you as a professional), he also trusts the treatment you provide. So, the placebo effect depends very much on the relationship you have with the client. There are even studies that tell us that tissue healing depends on the relationship providers have with their clients.

communication skills

2. Your clients will accept your advice more often

We physiotherapists provide all kinds of advice to clients. We often tell them what’s wrong, what to do and what could contribute to their recovery. Perfect! Unless our client assumes that we are right! And precisely that is what is determined by your communication skills. If the client trusts you because of your trustworthy communication style, he will tend to take your advice seriously too.

3. Your clients exercise more often (compliance)

Compliance and adherence is a “sore” topic for all health professionals. According to this report from WHO, the average health care in care is approximately 50%. And we as physiotherapists do not do it any better, possibly even worse …. How does this percentage improve? Indeed, by asking the right questions, support the client correctly in his compliance. And that is often not achieved by convincing the patient of the usefulness or necessity of your advice or practice. You should think about motivational interviewing and shared decision making.

4. Your patient learns more and better

Often we want to teach clients something. How they should move, what posture is better and which one isn’t, what things they should keep in mind during movement, how to do exercises, etc. Sometimes it’s more effective to make the client discover things himself. You coach and guide him in several aspects of his movement. Coaching skills are mainly based on excellent communication skills.

5. Your diagnostics are better and more complete

Clients present their health problems to us and ask us, sometimes implicitly, to analyze their problem and come up with a solution. At first glance, this seems to be primarily the activity of the therapist, the client is undergoing history taking and assessment. But it can be done more efficiently, provided you have good communication skills. Get the client involved in the process of all this! Then the client will consider much more, will introduce his own analyzes and his own perceptions as well. In physiotherapy, a health problem often consists of (and is caused by) a multitude of factors. Too much to ask the client one by one. However, by explaining the client things from time to time during history taking and assessment he will participate and consider much more than you ever be able to. Result: 1 + 1 = 3!

6. Shared decision making is done better and easier

After history taking and assessment you make up your conclusion and there has to be made several decisions. So Shared decision making comes in. This is done well when you have enough communication skills, leading to better solutions with much bigger commitment from the client.

7. Your patient gets motivated better

Motivation is important. If the client is motivated to exercise and follow your advice, the effect of physiotherapeutic treatment becomes bigger and more sustainable. It can also be important to discuss the clients lifestyle because many musculoskeletal problems are caused by a passive lifestyle. Motivational interviewing is effective here. Not an easy method but it certainly is a beautiful approach that helps you guide your client change his lifestyle from his own motivation.

8. Your patient becomes more intrinsically convinced if you properly educate them

Suppose this happens to you: you have pain in your neck and you think something is wrong….in your body. Then your physiotherapist tells you that it’s not so much in your body, but you have pain because you are hypersensitive, like an alarm system that is triggered false because it isn’t well adjusted…… That’s another mind-shift to make! In these cases, we really ask a lot from our clients. In order to help your client in a way that his concepts of pain will really change, much is needed. What a challenge! Excellent communication skills will help you for sure.

9. Your first reflex is not always the right one

Communicating professionally with our clients often means counting to 3, 5 or even 10. Your first tendency in responding is not always the right one. For example, a client gives you a very strange explanation for his own complaints. Your first reflex, sometimes called the righting reflex, might be that you tell the client that he’s wrong by saying: “I understand, but it works differently in our body.” Maybe it’s better to really listen to the client and do your best to understand his ideas, probably by practicing ‘reflective listening’. Then let him know that you have listened carefully and respect his view by briefly summarizing what he has said. After that, you could probably ask: “I have a different vision, would it be okay if I share that with you?”.

10. You want to be a reflective practitioner

Goal orientated, effective and reflective action: every serious professional strives for this. And that also with regard to his communication with the client. Isn’t it?

Well, I hope you enjoyed reading this post. Don’t hesitate to post comments, you’re welcome. See you next time!

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