Although we spend a lot of time communicating with our patients verbally, the use of written communication is still an essential part of the customer journey.
Written records are a very useful resource
- They can record changes over time e.g. the management of a condition
- They act as a reminder of previous actions or findings
- In a fitness to practice case, they help to establish what happened
- They can be audited to identify areas best practice and where improvements can be made
- They can be read and reread at a later date, so they are less timebound that oral communication
- Ideal for longer communications
- Pictures and diagrams can be added to improve the understanding of the message
- It is more reliable for circulating information, as it can be checked before sending and sent to multiple people at once, so they all receive the same version
Barriers to Written Communication
These can include issues such as:
- Physical features – e.g. bad handwriting, poor font choice, size, or colour
- Noise – e.g. poor spelling, punctuation or grammar
- Lack of immediate feedback
- Differences in comprehension and interpretation
- Technology – e.g. lacking the right equipment or software, or not being able to use it properly
- Someone’s physical, mental or emotional state
- Language differences and understanding
Examples of the channels for written communication include:
- Emails – e.g. telling a customer that their spectacles are ready
- Text message – e.g. an appointment reminder
- Letter – e.g. telling someone that their eye test is now due
- Questionnaire – e.g. when pre-screening
- Prescription – this must be given out at the end of the test (and signed)
- Website – advertising the company, its products, and services
- Posters/advertising/social media – these are examples of one-way communication, but it can communicate to many people at once (one-to-many)
- Leaflets – these could be about a product or service, or even regarding an eye condition that someone has just been diagnosed with
Leaflets are an ideal way to give patients more information; with many available from the professional bodies, such as the AOP and the College of Optometrists, as well as from charities such as the RNIB, Glaucoma UK or the Macular Society. Leaflets can be read (& re-read) later to enforce the content and can be shared with others. These usually continue useful links to further resources e.g. charity websites or phone numbers.
The AOP and College of Optometrists offer a wide range of patient information leaflets free to members
So, as you can see, there are many different uses for written communication. Let us now consider the structure of written communication.
There are three key elements to consider
- The purpose
- The audience
- The words
Before you start, think about the purpose of the communication, what do you want to achieve? What information does the reader need? What is your call to action?
When considering the audience, we should think about
- Their age – as communicating with a child is different from an adult
- Formality – how well do you know the person and how formal is the communication? A letter is more formal than a text message
- Their understanding – the language you would use in a letter to a fellow professional is different from what you would use when writing to a patient
- Their background, experience, and possible emotional state
The words convey the tone, as we have no voice, so it is the words we use that will build rapport. There are also no visual clues, such as a smile or other body language, therefore there is a higher risk of the message being misread or misunderstand.
In part 1 we looked at the 7 C’s of effective communication and these are very relevant to written communication. Avoid jargon that will confuse the reader, so consider simple word choices.
Clear: Be clear about your goals and purpose for the communication
Correct: Spelling, punctuation, grammar, context
Concise: Keep it brief, as you don’t want to write too much and lose the reader
Complete: Contains everything the reader will need to be able to make you call to action
Courteous: It has the right tone and suits your reader
Coherent: It is logical, easy to read and flows well from point to point
Concrete: The message gives a clear picture, with no ambiguity; the use of diagrams can help
A summary of the 7 C’s of effective communication – from Part 1
The final consideration is, where possible, to keep a copy on file for future reference.
A useful piece of advice often given on business communication courses is to avoid using the word YOU, as this can be read as negative or being antagonistic. Instead, try to keep the language positive. It is not always possible to drop the word completely.
You need to take this to your GP -> Here is the letter for your GP
We can’t do anything until we hear from you -> Once we hear back, we will start the process
What you will need to do -> Here is what we recommend
Setting a style
There are some key styling guidelines for written forms of communication; there are:
- The Greeting – simple, positive and respectful
- Hi Kim
- Dear Mr. Lewis
- Formatting of paragraphs
- For each idea
- Or to respond to each question
- Bullet points and lists help highlight key points and make things easier to read
- A Closure statement
- The signature line – this should give a name, position in the company, and contact details. You might also want to include additional information, such as opening hours if they want to phone you.
Access to records must be restricted, so any paper records must be kept away in locked draws and not left out on desks. If using a computer, then the screen should be locked, and access password protected. It also means that data must not be shared without the person’s consent.
General Data Protection Regulation (2018) / The Data Protection Act (2018)
The EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) outlines the data protection principles that organisations need to follow when collecting, processing, and storing individuals’ personal data. The data controller is responsible for complying with the principles and must be able to demonstrate the organisation’s compliance practices. For full details about GDPR visit https://ico.org.uk/
In part-4 Anthony will cover ‘the secrets to reading body language’.
Anthony Blackman MSc BSc(Hons) FBDO(Hons) SMC(Tech) is co-founder and director of training at Insight Optical Training. He can be contacted directly via [email protected]