As physicians, we have always been cognizant of the importance of communication with our patients. Effective patient communication builds trust, enhances the quality of care, can improve outcomes, and can lead to greater patient satisfaction. But how effective are those communications? It's a challenge for all physicians, but especially for anesthesiologists since we have limited time to build relationships with our patients. That communication, however, has never been more vital.

Undoubtedly, many of you have found ways to connect with patients during preoperative and postoperative interactions. ASA's Enhancing Patient Communications Program – part of the Made for This Moment campaign – is designed to help you build your communication skills to ensure patients remember you are the physician leading their anesthesia care and that they recognize and value the care you provide.

Anesthesiologists are perioperative experts and the physician leaders in charge of the patient's medical care throughout the perioperative process. Keeping patients safe and comfortable throughout this process are two important components of that care. Unfortunately, many patients don't realize this. In fact, nearly six in 10 Americans do not know their anesthesiologist is a physician. And often they don't remember meeting their anesthesiologist.

“...research shows that many anesthesiologists overestimate how much patients value smooth, trouble-free care and underestimate the value they place on information and communication.”

Furthermore, research shows that many anesthesiologists overestimate how much patients value smooth, trouble-free care and underestimate the value they place on information and communication.

Effective communication has been shown to improve outcomes and reduce postoperative pain, length of hospital stay, and cost of care, while ensuring patients are calmer on the day of the procedure. There's evidence it's good for us, too, in enhancing our personal and professional well-being.

Recognizing these gaps in patient understanding of the value of anesthesiologist-led care and the data-backed importance of effective communication, the ASA Committee on Communications (COC) and a subgroup of members have developed a robust, research-backed program.

The goals of the Enhancing Patient Communications Program are to:

  • Improve the relationships between anesthesiologists and their patients by

    • Enhancing overall communication

    • Ensuring care is patient-centered

    • Ensuring patients understand our role in their care

    • Increasing public awareness of the specialty.

Secondarily, the program seeks to:

  • Improve patient satisfaction in interactions with anesthesiologists

  • Increase patient confidence in anesthesiologists and the expert medical care they provide and reinforce patient expectations of anesthesiologists' involvement in future surgical encounters.

The foundation for the Enhancing Patient Communications Program is an extensive toolkit that provides suggested tips and best practices to help you augment your approach to communicating with patients.

The content focuses on:

  • Establishing the physician-patient relationship. This section lays the groundwork for building a successful relationship with patients, from ensuring you are familiar with the patient's chart and health history in advance of the preoperative consultation to establishing your role and other team members' roles, noting that your main goal is to keep them safe and comfortable. Other topics covered include developing a personal rapport, expressing empathy, using nonverbal communication, and avoiding jargon.

  • Communicating information to the patient clearly and at the correct times throughout the perioperative journey. Patients benefit from having a solid understanding of what to expect every step of the way before, during, and after the procedure. During the preoperative encounter, it's important to acknowledge their anxiety and address possible concerns such as anesthesia awareness and retrograde amnesia, as well as manage expectations for pain after surgery. This section also provides suggestions for managing informed consent and risks, shared goals and decision-making, and patient input. The postoperative check-in is vital, too, demonstrating to patients that you are the leader throughout the perioperative care process and providing another opportunity to connect with and advise them.

  • Communicating in specific contexts. Successful communication requires adapting to each patient's needs. Providing culturally competent care is a baseline, and the toolkit offers basic insights, such as ensuring a translator is present and materials are provided in other languages if needed, as well as resources for in-depth guidance. The toolkit also delves into tailoring your communications for specific patient populations, including seniors, children, women in labor, and patients who have chronic pain. Providing telehealth when applicable and addressing COVID-19 are also discussed.

  • Building long-term communication success. While the tips and best practices provide resources to help you elevate awareness, it's important to keep in mind various principles that can help you cement these best practices long-term. For example, honing skills takes time and a deliberate process. Choosing one or two practices from the toolkit at a time and focusing on them can help you blend them into your patient care so they become standard. One should also recognize the benefit of learning from your colleagues and sharing these findings with them to exponentially grow awareness of the specialty.

To bring these best practices and tips to life, the toolkit is filled with details to provide context, such as testimonials from anesthesiologists who provide patient care and specific examples, including language that might help you provide more depth and context to your communications.

The Enhancing Patient Communications Program was introduced at ANESTHESIOLOGY® 2021, and additional roll-out activities will take place in 2022. Watch ASA communications channels for additional information on how to engage in the program. Visit the Made for This Moment member page at www.asahq.org/patient-communications-toolkit to access the toolkit and start enhancing your patient experiences today.

Adam Striker, MD, FASA, Chair, ASA Committee on Communications, and Associate Professor of Anesthesiology, University of Cincinnati and University of Kentucky, Division of Cardiac Anesthesia, Cincinnati Children's Hospital, Joint Congenital Cardiac Program, Kentucky Children's Hospital.

Adam Striker, MD, FASA, Chair, ASA Committee on Communications, and Associate Professor of Anesthesiology, University of Cincinnati and University of Kentucky, Division of Cardiac Anesthesia, Cincinnati Children's Hospital, Joint Congenital Cardiac Program, Kentucky Children's Hospital.