While you’re still a medical student, there will be few occasions when you’ll make entries in medical records. When communicating with patients, you’ll be supported and shouldn’t be responsible for passing critical information about patients to other healthcare professionals. However, once you qualify, you may need to do this every working day.

The importance of good verbal and written communication in providing safe, high quality patient care cannot be over-emphasised. We have written previously about the importance of making clear, contemporaneous, accurate and legible written records.

The basics of clear communication

Throughout your career you will need to obtain important information from patients, relatives, carers and occasionally even passers-by. It is important to use language and terminology likely to elicit relevant and complete information. The majority of people you will speak to about medical history or information will not be medically trained so it is important to avoid complex medical terms, jargon and abbreviations as these may be misunderstood.

You may need to speak to patients or relatives where there is a language barrier between you. It is important to consider if you need a translator, including British Sign Language (BSL) translators, to support your communication.

When communicating verbally with a patient, relative or carer, avoid giving the impression of patronising those you are speaking to. For example, you should not automatically speak to elderly patients more slowly, using simpler vocabulary and sentence structure if that is not required by that particular patient.