When you are parenting a child with special needs, learning how to communicate clearly with teachers, doctors and other professionals is a critical tool. Good communication helps the person we’re trying to talk to understand all of the facts of the situation as well as what we need them to do. It’s not that they don’t care about us or want to rush us, but sometimes too much information makes it hard for them to know how to help.
One helpful communication tool health care professionals use is called SBAR. It’s a standardized way of talking about a patient’s situation quickly and clearly. It works just as well for parents when we are talking with professionals about our children.
SBAR stands for Situation, Background, Assessment, and Recommendation, and it is exactly what it sounds like. Here is a description of what a conversation might look like using SBAR.
Situation: Briefly describe who you are and what’s going on. “My name is Mrs. Smith and I’m calling about my son, Jamie, who I am concerned about.”
Background: Briefly describe the relevant key points about the person. “Jamie is nine years old and has a cognitive disability and anxiety. He has trouble communicating verbally. For the last two days he hasn’t seemed like himself. This morning I noticed him pulling on his left ear. I took his temperature and he has a fever or 101. I gave him some ibuprofen and it seemed to make him more comfortable and his fever went down.”
Assessment: Describe what you think this means or what you think should happen next. “I think Jamie has an ear infection.”
Request: State what you would like the person you are talking with to do. “I’d like your advice on what we should do. Do you think we should come into the office or is there something we can do from home?”
The Empowered Patient has a free SBAR handout that can help you prepare for a phone call, when you have a concern in the hospital, or when you’re getting ready for an office visit using the SBAR technique. Check it out! It’s simple and can help make sure that you are heard and that you or your loved one gets the attention they need.
The SBAR technique can be used in non-medical situations too. I just used it to call my school district with a complicated question about their after-school policy. Normally, I’d give too much information about some things but still forget to say my name. Using this technique, the phone call was over in two minutes and I felt like it went really well.