A Registered Dietitians Take on Communication

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A Registered Dietitians Take on Communication 

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“I was always interested in health and fitness since as long as I can remember”, Said Brittney Horn, RD.  More importantly, she knew she had a passion to help improve the lives of her loved ones and others who struggled with health challenges. This passion led her to choose the field of Nutrition as her life-long career.

Brittney Horn is an Outpatient Dietitian that works for University Health Hospital in Shreveport, LA. She received her Bachelors and Masters in Food and Nutrition at the University of Southern Mississippi. She also completed her dietetic internship with her alum as well. Brittney has been working in nutrition for the past 5 years and is surprised at how fast that time has past! I guess that’s what happens when you are doing something you love!

Adapting Communication

Most Dietitians meet with patients each day. Each person is different and they must adapt communication skills so that they are as effective as possible. Brittney is no exception, she claimed that many of these skills were learned in her Nutrition Counseling class that she took in college. One unique skill she learned was how to use the SMOG readability formula to improve the way she wrote things for people on lower reading levels. This formula is used to assess a document based on features such as how many multiple syllable words existed in that work. Using this information, it can estimate how many years of education one needs to read that document. “I make a lot of handouts, pamphlets, and packets for my patients….I have a low literacy population so you have to be careful with verbiage and word usage”, said Brittney.

The Importance of Communication

Brittney says that good communication is “very important” in her field. Proper communication ensures that a patient receives the right care. She explained that in the health field there are many “gaps” when it comes to patient care. By this she means that a patient comes in contact with many different healthcare workers and each one must communicate with the next so as not to leave a gap. She expressed that these communications can be as important as “life or death” in some cases.

Communicating with Technology

Technology is prevalent all around us and is especially evident in the hospitals. “I don’t do much handwriting. Our hospital is all electronic records at this point”, Brittney said.  She talked about the need for technology and its improvements but says that “being able to do face-to-face communication is key”. She explained how much easier she thinks it is to sit at a table with colleagues and be able to quickly and efficiently communicate ideas. Although pagers seem to be a thing of the past, some things will never change. Being able to communicate with other humans without the “middle man” of technology will always be a timeless communication skill.

Ashley Gillespie, guest blogger

How Communication affects Dietetics

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                                    Andrea Ehrman

Do you like food? Most people do, and it’s not only something we all enjoy, but it’s something we all need. Andrea Ehrman is a registered dietitian who is currently working at St. Francis in Monroe. She chose this field because she wants to make a difference and help people. It is important for her to be “more on the preventative side” of medicine instead of just treating the illness. What she enjoys most about her career is educating and individualizing the information for each patient. In her field, communication is “the most important thing in the work force.”

In the dietetic world, communication is key to getting the patient proper care. The dietitian has to communicate to not only the doctor, but other people in the hospital. Dietitians would often have to communicate with the pharmacy to make sure the patient’s medicine won’t affect the diet. They also have to communicate with the patient. They have to educate the patient on what needs to be done. With all the different departments she has to communicate with, miscommunication can sometimes be an issue.

Andrea emphasized that one of the biggest advantages of written communication is that it is documented. It can always be referred to at a later time and there is no need to remember what someone said. However, there are disadvantages as well. When given a doctor’s progress note, it can sometimes be difficult to read their handwriting. This can often lead to performing the wrong task. Also, with written communication and a doctor’s note, there is no way to assess a person’s body language, which can result in “a one way communication.”

On other occasions, a doctor’s note can be too broad. Andrea stated that a doctor’s note she once read only said “TPN (total parenteral nutrition) recommendations.” However, the doctor did not just want her to recommend a TPN, but to order one as well. This lead to her not being able to do her job properly and the patient did not get what they needed.  

On the other hand, verbal communication allows you to ask follow up questions. If something is not clear, it can be clarified and it is immediate.  Verbal communication with doctors, however, is much different than with her patients. The doctor is able to understand the terms and phrases that she uses on a daily basis. When communicating to patients, Andrea said “that they don’t understand as much. That’s why you have to break it down to their level.” Most of her patients, or even the general population, don’t know what a carbohydrate is. She has to explain to them that it is sugar and then proceed to give them examples of what foods contain it. If she does not properly communicate to her patients or use words they will understand, they run the risk of including the wrong foods in their diet.

Communication in the workplace can be tricky. It is easy for people to be misunderstood and things are not always clear. To prevent miscommunication from happening, Andrea Ehrman advised to always follow up with those she speaks with. She advises that you make sure that your fellow healthcare team members do what you ask them to do. If, for instance, a nurse is asked to do a task follow up. You should go to the nurse at a later time and ask if the task was completed. That way, you are respectful to your coworkers while also being efficient.  

Emma Rankin, Guest Blogger