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10 Ways to Better Communicate with Medical Professionals

Jasmine Jafferali, MPH, ACE-CPT, is the program coordinator and instructor for the Online Professional Certificate in women’s exercise training and wellness, an interactive online Web-based certificate program designed to ensure the development of safe and effective exercise programs for women by personal trainers, allied health/medical and fitness professionals, and the general public. She has a diverse fitness background, having worked in campus recreation, corporate wellness and the commercial health club setting. Her practical experience in wellness programming gives her a distinctive opportunity to teach wellness to other fitness professionals. She also advocates on bringing the fitness and medical community together through wellness and preventative programming. Jafferali specializes in women’s health and wellness, focusing on pre- and postnatal fitness and is a master trainer for Healthy Moms Fitness and Resist-a-ball. You may contact her at

Misunderstandings and communication problems remain one of the most common problems in the professional environment. Communication is essential for effective functioning in every part of an organization, whether it is one-on-one, in a group setting or through e-mail. People in organizations typically spend more than 75 percent of their time in an interpersonal situation. If we want to build bridges between the fitness and medical community, effective communication with medical professionals is an essential component.

Linguists claim up that in terms of communication effectiveness, 93 percent is determined by non-verbal cues, 38 percent by voice quality and 55 percent by non-verbal communication. This means that 7 percent of communication is done by the words we use. The most recent National Adult Literacy Survey found that an estimated 30 million adults, or 14 percent, have below-basic literacy skills. Health care professionals generally rank in the highest category, creating another gap in communication.

As the bridge between the medical community and the fitness industry tightens, it is important that fitness professionals learn how to communicate with consistency and power so that we can implement skills that build rapport and respect, and ensure clarity from medical professionals.

Here are some ways that we can improve our communication skills:

  1. Take a course in medical terminology and/or pharmacology. This is important if you plan on working in the medical setting or if you plan on working with clients who are post-op or in post-rehab fitness. Good communication will save you the headache of learning what medications interfere with heart rates or knowing the difference between hyperglycemia and hypoglycemia.
  2. It is about their patient and your client. Unless you like spending time in court, do not exceed your scope of practice, even when it comes to nutritional counseling.
  3. If you don’t understand what is going on, ask for clarification. Don’t be embarrassed to ask for further explanation, especially of medical terms. You’ll gain more respect if you ask than if you guess.
  4. Listen. Good communication depends on good listening, so be conscious of whether you are really listening to what the medical professional is telling you. Many people in a conversation aren’t really listening. Person B is already preparing responses to person A while person A is still talking. Listening is a requisite for the exchange of ideas. Studies show that doctors listen for an average of 18 seconds before they interrupt, causing them to miss important information patients are trying to tell them.
  5. Maintain eye contact. Eye contact is one of the most direct and powerful forms of non-verbal communication. It tells others that you are interested in them, and they can trust you.
  6. Increase self-awareness, and practice the skill of self-observation. Learn the strengths and weaknesses in your personality. Be aware of your style, habits and tone. Note how you communicate after people respond positively and negatively to you. By increasing your self-awareness, you will be able to pinpoint the areas of communication you want to improve.
  7. Learn to adhere to the rules and policies of HIPAA, the Patient’s Bill of Rights, and be wary of privacy issues with your clients. The medical industry is highly regulated, and we need to respect these rules and policies that may affect the way we train our clients.
  8. Be professional and use proper grammar when communicating through e-mail. If you can’t write e-mails effectively, get some training. Use spell check. Don’t leave the subject heading blank, don’t type in all caps or all lower case, and don’t assume your e-mail will remain confidential. Avoid typos, mangled sentences, abbreviations and acronyms. While FYI and ASAP are acceptable, IDK and OMG are not.
  9. Don’t hide behind e-mails. Most delicate matters must be discussed in person. Most conflicts must be settled in person or at least by phone.
  10. Keep e-mails to a minimum. If you do e-mail and need to carbon copy a few people, and it is not necessary for everyone to reply to all, relay that information in your e-mail. Otherwise, you’ll have some people upset at all the unnecessary e-mails in their inbox.

Communication is vital to successful patient-client outcomes and higher satisfaction rates. Remember, good care should be a partnership between fitness professionals and health care professionals.
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