By Jeff Megahan
A group of 33 young practitioners joined Sharyn Milnes for a free workshop at the Optometry Victoria headquarters on 10 October.
Sharyn, who co-ordinated the ethics law and professional development theme for the medical curriculum at Deakin University, is undertaking a PhD on the link between ethical patient-centred care and communication skills.
During the session, which earned the participants two non-clinical CPD points, Sharyn discussed the limitations of the disease-focused view of professional care and advanced the cause of thoughtful reflection and open conversation with patients.
At the heart of her presentation were the four main stages of communication for health-care professionals, which offered the attendees a way to frame and deconstruct their own communications styles.
Four main stages of communication for health-care professionals
Stage 1: Initiating. The practitioner introduces himself/herself to the patient and answers the patient’s unspoken questions: Who are you? What is your role? What do you hope to get out of the discussion?
Stage 2: Information gathering and history taking. ‘This stage requires a lot of care,’ Sharyn said. ‘We know that clinicians ask a lot of closed questions, and senior clinicians, who have a lot of experience, tend to make a lot of assumptions and ask questions directed towards the assumptions they have.’
Stage 3: Explanation and planning. In this stage, the practitioner should come to a plan with the patient. ‘Too often the patient is just told what will happen,’ Sharyn said. Another problem in this stage is that practitioners tend to use too much jargon.
Stage 4: Closure. According to Sharyn, this stage of communication between clinician and patient receives the least attention. Without proper closure, the patient is left sitting there thinking: ‘Is that it? What happens now?’
Jason Tan role-playing the part of the ‘optometrist’ with professional actor Janet Watson Kruse as the ‘patient’
Throughout the event, attendees were given common scenarios to workshop their communications skills. Tina Huynh, a member of the Young Optometrists Victoria Committee 2016 and one of the organisers of the event, was impressed.
‘I thought it was interesting because it started out with Sharyn talking about communications in general and then it broke it down to more specifics related to optometry. Then examples of poor or bad communication were offered, showing the attendees examples of how they can be spun around to good communications,’ she said.
Optometry Victoria runs at least two Young Optometry Victoria seminars a year. ‘The committee members of YO Victoria suggest the topics that we feel young optometrists would benefit from having insight into, or more information,’ Tina said.
‘One of these topics was breaking bad news: how to communicate issues with patients, as well as how to communicate with other health-care professionals, how to talk to GPs, how to do referrals and so on. We looked at what we felt were hot topics, and then the next part was finding speakers on those topics,’ she said.
Tina complimented Sharyn for the interactive style of the presentation. ‘Rather than just make a list of things that had to be said or done, it was more like: let’s see what you’ve been doing and what you think is effective communications,’ Tina said.
Sharyn Milne was pleased with the results. ‘These are good people doing good things in their profession,’ she said. ‘It’s just that they sometimes forget to make explicit what they’re thinking and why they’re acting like they are.
‘Hopefully, it got the young optometrists thinking about the four stages and some micro-skills that exist within the four stages’ she said.
For information, see the Optometry Victoria website.