Inclusive language from clinicians and staff helps to make patients feel empowered in the health care setting.
It works to improve feelings of isolation and discrimination based on their social identities including, but not limited to, their race or ethnicity, nationality, sexual orientation, gender, age, ability, or socioeconomic status.
Effective communication has been linked to improving patient engagement, adherence to treatment, satisfaction, quality of life, and reduced psychological symptoms (e.g. depression and anxiety).
Meeting a patient for the first time.
Introduce yourself, your health care profession, and your pronouns. This provides an inclusive environment and indicates to your patient that their pronouns are also safe to share.
Hi, my name is Franklin and my pronouns are he/him/his. I’m the office manager here and I’ll be helping you see Dr. Lopez today.
Avoid making generalizations and assumptions when interacting with others. Not making assumptions based on patient appearances can help acknowledge and validate their experiences.
Ask for pronouns instead of defaulting to she/her for someone who presents in a feminine manner.
Understand that each individual may have their own preference for language.
How one identifies is very specific to an individual or a community and knowing what a person uses can help them feel seen.
When getting information about presenting issues or symptoms, also ask how they would describe those symptoms to someone in their family or community.
Sometimes people have different ways of describing their problem to their family, friends, or others in their community.
How would you describe the pain you're feeling to your best friend?
Ask about previous experiences with the health care system or seeking treatment and whether they are concerned about seeking care, or getting appropriate care.
Sometimes doctors and patients misunderstand each other because they come from different backgrounds or have different expectations.
Have you been concerned about this and is there anything that we can do to provide you with the care you need?
Referencing or speaking about a patient.
Avoid using language that victimizes individuals.
Use personal health information that is pertinent to the conversation.
Knowing a person’s sexual orientation is not pertinent as to why they were diagnosed with diabetes.
Be aware of battle language surrounding health issues.
Using this language implies that life is a fight to be won, and for those who died, did not fight hard enough to survive.
Be conscious of words that marginalize individuals from being considered “normal”.
Note: These examples and guides are not meant to be applicable to every individual or scenario, as every individual has their own inclusive language preferences. The best solution is to directly ask the individual.
Speaking with a patient about their visit.
Ask a variety of open-ended questions, as it will solicit more information, build rapport, and create space for individuals to reflect and voice any concerns.
How have you been handling it thus far?
Rely on plain language to communicate with patients because medical jargon can be isolating to individuals not in the field.
Check for understanding and invite individuals to repeat back their health information in their own words.
This is a new diagnosis for you, so I want to make sure I explained it clearly to you. Will you tell me in your own words what hypertension is?
Affirm the person by highlighting their strengths while reinforcing their ability to make decisions towards positive change.
I appreciate your current efforts despite the discomfort you are in.
Before talking with the patient, ask them if they are comfortable in having their friends/family in the room.
Is it okay for me to speak with you while your loved ones in the room or would you prefer to be alone while we talk?
Ask the patient for permission to disclose their personal health information (PHI) to colleagues in their care team and make sure that the information shared is always clinically relevant.
Do I have your permission to share this information about your leg rash with the clinic’s dermatologist, Dr. Thomas, who treats skin conditions? I want to assure you that Dr. Thomas and I will be only be talking about the rash; nothing else from our visit today will be disclosed.
Collaborate with individuals on next steps and treatment plans to amplify follow through.
What feels to you like a reasonable first step to take, changing your diet or getting more steps in?
Reflect back the words you hear the individual saying.
That sounds frustrating.
So, you don’t want to give up the convenience of fast food, but you would like to eat healthier.
Summarize as a way to end a session or transition to another topic with patients. Concisely summarizing everything you heard the patient mention gives them assurance that they are being heard and leaves room to correct any misunderstanding.
So, let’s go over what we have talked about so far…
I want to make sure I am understanding exactly what you have been trying to tell me…
So, you are saying…is that correct?
Honest and open communication is integral for patients so they can be seen as unique individuals and to create safe spaces for effective treatments. Through effective communication practices such as empathy, clear language, and cultural competency, individuals can benefit and receive optimal care.
Things to consider.
Use creative ways to provide and receive feedback on effective communication in the clinical setting. Although intentions come from a good place, many health care professionals have limited insight into how they come across when talking to patients.
Are there spaces where you could learn, engage, and contribute to more effective communication with patients?
Campbell, M., & Wilkinson, L. (2021, July 27). Inclusive language for medical education and health education: An evolving guide.
HIPAA Journal. (n.d.). Communication strategies in healthcare.
Kognito. (n.d.). Interpersonal communication in healthcare.
Nursing License Map. (2021, April 16). How to use inclusive language in healthcare.
The University of Texas at Austin Dell Medical School. (n.d.). Inclusive language guidelines.
Tulane University School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine. (2021, September 17). Strategies for effective communication in healthcare.