The message is perfectly clear: Too often we aren't

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James M. Berklan, Editor
James M. Berklan, Editor

The telephone call came from the doctor's office. I wasn't put off too much that an office worker was on the line instead of the doctor or nurse. I was anxious to get the test results.

"They came back negative," she said. I paused, probably more disappointed than relieved that something hadn't been found.

"Well, can you ask the doctor what I should do now? Should I start therapy?" Pause. "I want this to get better, and if it isn't serious, I better start working on it."

Another pause. Then, "OK, Well, I can ask him, but usually nothing more is done." I reiterated my hope to start therapy or some other treatment and we continued a slightly disjointed conversation for another good four or five minutes. Somewhere in my prattling I told her how my knee had flared up, so we really were hoping an MRI would have detected some sort of condition that could be treated.

"This is about your blood test," she said.

Oh. I had forgotten that after a routine physical a few days earlier, the doctor wanted to check another blood indicator – in addition to an MRI for my aching knee.

Everything eventually came out OK from my conversation with the office worker (meanwhile, arthroscopic surgery for a torn meniscus is looming as of this writing). But our farcical conversation hit me like a ton of CMS manuals.

As a healthcare worker, she should have known to specify which test she was referring to. Yet even as a professional communicator, I find myself making similar mistakes. So there's no high-handedness in reminding you that we are all in the communications business, and we must take better care of the messages we send and receive.

This extends beyond clinical issues. Think of the many times you speak with family members, either to give or get information. A secondary point of Jeff Petty's "Having My Say" piece this month (pages 46-47) is that providers often come up short in communicating crucial information.

What about your interaction with surveyors? Ever want to give them a message in just that right way? (Yes, I mean that in more than one way.)

The communication issue also popped up this month during research for our annual salary survey package. An expert once again noted that employee relations hinge much more on how the boss treats employees, rather than pay levels. Another call for good communication skills.

Make a point of polishing the ways you give and receive information. Otherwise, you might never know what tests you're passing, or failing.

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