5. Effective Listening and Support

In this section, we will consider effective communication techniques to use with patients and caregivers, and conclude the Palliative Care Part 1 course.

The following video illustrates the impact of listening to and supporting the patient. The video features Sharon Konyen, a Spiritual Care Professional at Princess Margaret Hospital who is speaking with a standardized patient. The scenario is very emotional and is intended to depict a unique patient experience. In the video, we will see how letting the patient know he or she is being heard and understood can affect the patient’s experience and the quality of the encounter. There are specific communication skills and techniques demonstrated that serve to enhance caring for a palliative patient. You may also wish to review the Glossary of Communication Skills and Techniques.

(To read along click here.)

Patients’ complex needs require dedicated palliative care staff with sensitivity, empathy and advanced communication skills. Most patients want a voice in their healthcare; they want to be involved in decision-making and know what to expect and how to plan for their treatment and their future. Good advanced care planning for palliative patients depends on detailed and ongoing communication and partnership between the healthcare team, patient, and the patient’s family or other individuals that they have chosen to involve. Through family meetings, medical staff can promote informed choices by clarifying priorities for patients. This not only strengthens the patient/healthcare provider relationship, but conveys confidence in the healthcare system by addressing the patient’s values and preferences.

Despite their specialized clinical knowledge, medical staff cannot know what it feels like to be dying. From an emotional, psychological and spiritual standpoint, the palliative patient is now the teacher. Their perspective can be a fountain of information for any medical professional willing to listen and learn. Healthcare providers can ask themselves: “What will I learn from this patient?” “How can this knowledge help me connect to the needs of future patients?” “How can I use this knowledge to best support the patient?”

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