Top Tips for Communicating with Patients who have Additional Needs

Communication can be challenging for some patient groups, including many patients who I see in Special Care Dentistry.... and the COVID-19 has lead to some additional hurdles to overcome with health care professionals and the public covering their faces with masks more than ever! So what can we do for our patients who need a little bit of adaptations when it comes to communicating effectively....

Which Patients have Communication Difficulties?

  • People with language barriers
  • People with Learning Disabilities
  • People with sensory impairments such as people who are blind or deaf
  • People with brain injuries such as stroke survivors
  • People with mental health issues - this can be temporary, for example for those with drug and alcohol issues during periods of intoxication
  • Young children
  • People with cognitive issues such as Dementia or Parkinson's Disease
According to the NHS's Accessible Information Standards (2016), every health and social care provider, including dental services, have to make reasonable adaptations for patients about how they wish to comminicate - for example via email, text message, telephone, interpreters, Easy read print etc. A useful video explaining this is below

Top Tips in Communication

1. Language barriers - ensure you have access to an interpreter if you are concerned that your patient is unable to understand sufficiently to have valid consent. These can be face to face, or via telephone interpreters. When using interpreters always remember that you are the person in control of the consultation. Lead the conversations, but make sure you are addressing the patient directly rather than just talking to the interpreter. You may need to allow for additional time during the appointment for translation. 

2. Visual Impairments - if a person is blind or partially sighted, you need to make sure you are using are talking and describing what you are doing more than normal. Use the person's name so they know they are talking to you, use verbal responses and verbalise your actions - i.e. narrate. Consider audio information or accessible information in large print or braille rather than standard patient information leaflets. 

3. Deaf or Hearing Impairments - I have previously written about how we can make adjustments for this group of patients on Dentistry online for Deaf Awareness week

4. People with other Additional Needs - can be a big spectrum of conditions and communication difficulties. Many of these patients will have information about their communication within documentation such as Hospital Passports (for people with learning disabilities or those in care homes), Autism passports or 'This is Me' passport for people living with Dementia. These are really valuable documents which can help you understand the individual in front of you. Never make assumptions about a patient, speak to them, not over them. 

Special Care Dentistry cares for people who might need alternative communicate aids such as Makaton, Communication Boards, Augmented Alternative Communication (such as the communication aid used by Stephen Hawking) or liaison with a patient's Speech and Language Team. If you are ever unsure about communicating with a patient, seeking an opinion from a Special Care Dental team might be appropriate. 

Do you have any questions about communicating with patients? Please leave them in the comments below

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