5. Effective communication tips for radiographers / radiological technologists imaging Covid-19 positive/suspected patients
Even before a patient comes to the diagnostic imaging department, as an out-patient or as an in-patient, a pre-screening procedure should be considered. Such a procedure, together with a broader approach to work up and radiology imaging in COVID-19 suspected patients, is outlined in a recent article by Mosha-Basha et al 8. Screening prior to arrival in the diagnostic imaging department, and the approaches to communication around this, are essential.
Investing time to build a good rapport with patients is one of the keys to establishing a positive radiographer-patient interaction. However, it is acknowledged that the hospital environment, the use of PPE and the intense emotions of fear, anxiety and helplessness among both patients and staff, all make it more challenging for radiographers/ radiological technologists to establish a good rapport with Covid-19 positive/suspected patients.
In fact, the necessity for wearing PPE introduces a barrier that generally obscures visualisation of radiographers’ / radiological technologists’ facial gestures and lip movements (See also Experiences of wearing Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) when examining patients section and Experiences of wearing Personal Protection Equipment (PPE) from a medical practitioner's professional perspective section). Therefore the patient is unable to see any welcoming gesture, such as a smile. In addition, the layers of PPE may influence radiographers / radiological technologists to raise their voice slightly when talking, because otherwise the patient may not be able to hear them clearly. Radiographers / radiological technologists should therefore be mindful of these factors, as well as other possibly underlying fears they may have when interacting with a Covid-19 positive/suspected patient. Indeed, it is understandable that radiographers / radiological technologists will be attentive to limit their time and contact with Covid-19 positive/suspected patients so as to minimise their own risk of infections. Nonetheless radiographers / radiological technologists need to be attentive not to appear too rushed and instead try their best to exhibit feelings of calmness, reassurance and empathy in what they say and do. In essence, given that other facial gestures are not seen, it is important that radiographers / radiological technologists ensure that they make good eye contact with the patient throughout the interaction.
Also, radiographers / radiological technologists should be attentive to ensuring that any information that is communicated verbally is being clearly heard and understood by the patient. If difficulties are encountered, the radiographer / radiological technologist must consider using alternative means of communication, such as the use of hand gestures (for example a ‘thumbs up’ or ‘thumbs down’). While small, such added efforts can help enhance the radiographer-patient interaction as well as ensure that radiographers/ radiological technologists fulfil their responsibility of providing the best possible care, safety and service to every individual patient at all times.
Given that different patients will have diverse needs and preferences, it is not possible to have a single communication strategy or approach that can be applied to all patient groups. In practice, radiographers / radiological technologists are always encouraged to tailor their communication to meet the needs of every individual patient. While allowing for any messages conveyed to be better received and understood, the provision of tailored information also enhances patient cooperation and overall patient experience. Furthermore, given the intense emotions present, it is equally important that radiographers / radiological technologists communicate small packets rather than large chunks of information to the patient - this helps make it easier for the patient to process and understand what is being said.
For this purpose, the following four steps are being suggested to help guide radiographers / radiological technologists to a good start when imaging and communicating with a Covid-19 positive/suspected patient.