How healthcare providers can FRAME conversations with patients with communication disorders

A yellow and a purple pencil rest on a blank page.
"M" is for multimodal communication. Healthcare providers can use writing words and diagrams as one way to aid communication with patients with communication disorders. 

May is National Speech-Language-Hearing Month. During this month, speech-language pathologists aim to raise awareness among colleagues in other healthcare professions about the communication needs of their patients. Most healthcare providers will interact with patients who have speech, language, cognitive or hearing impairments. These communication disorders can make it more difficult for patients to participate in their conversations with healthcare providers. 

There are a few simple steps that healthcare providers can take to support these patients and make healthcare more accessible. Follow these steps to more successfully FRAME your conversations with patients with a communication disorder:

F – Familiarize yourself with how your patient communicates before starting healthcare conversations. It’s OK to ask patients how you can help with communication and ensure you are understanding each other.

R – Reduce rate. A normal pace of conversation is too fast for many people with communication disorders. Don’t talk down to them – but slow down.

A – Assist with communication. Be flexible to try different strategies if communication is not going well. Try different question formats. Check in to verify understanding.

M – Multimodal communication. Keep a pad of paper handy. Try writing key words, simple diagrams, gestures and other ways to show patients if verbal communication is difficult. Encourage them to do the same. If they use technology to communicate, welcome that into the interaction.

E – Engage patients first. Show patients with communication disorders the same respect you show other patients. Engage them in decisions and conversations about their healthcare. Get to know them. Don’t talk to family members and exclude the patient.

For more information on this topic, see Teaching Medical Students Skills for Effective Communication With Patients Who Have Communication Disorders, a paper by Carolyn Baylor, PhD, CCC-SLP, Associate Professor; and colleagues. 

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