Risk Management Tools & Resources


Strategies for Communicating With Vaccine-Hesitant Parents of Pediatric Patients: Listen and Acknowledge


Laura M. Cascella, MA, CPHRM

Vaccine hesitancy among parents stems from many different causes. Understanding parents' beliefs and concerns about vaccines is essential for determining how to foster open and honest dialogue while addressing their uncertainties.

Parents who feel like their pediatric providers are listening to their concerns, acknowledging potential worries, and respecting their points of view — even if they don't agree — are generally more likely to consider their providers' recommendations. Although listening and acknowledging might seem like standard, reflexive aspects of care, communication issues continue to be problematic in pediatrics and many other healthcare specialties.

A study in the Journal of General Internal Medicine showed that doctors interrupt or redirect patients within 11 seconds of telling their stories.1 These interruptions can impede efforts to gather sufficient patient information, and they can make parents feel disrespected and ignored. To prevent dysfunctional communication, try the following:

  • Sit down with the parents and maintain eye contact while discussing their child's care.
  • Allow adequate time to converse, and answer any questions parents might have.
  • Ask open-ended questions — i.e., questions that require a detailed answer rather than a yes/no response.
  • Consider using a technique such as motivational interviewing to gain insight into parents' beliefs and values.
  • Repeat important information to confirm that you understand their concerns and perspectives.

Additionally, be aware of how nonverbal communication can affect the provider–parent encounter. Parents might construe fidgeting, avoiding eye contact, or constantly looking at a computer screen as dismissive. They might consider certain facial expressions and body language judgmental, such as raising eyebrows, smirking, head shaking, or arm crossing. If parents feel a provider is not taking them seriously or judging them, they may withhold concerns or be less willing to listen to the provider's advice or guidance.

Learn more about improving communication with MedPro's guideline Communicating Effectively With Patients to Improve Quality and Safety. For more strategies on addressing vaccine hesitancy, see Communicating Effectively With Vaccine-Hesitant Parents of Pediatric Patients.


1 Ospina, S., Phillips, K. A., Rodriguez-Gutierrez, R., Castaneda-Guarderas, A., Gionfriddo, M. R., Branda, M.E., & Montori, V. M. (2018, July 2). Eliciting the patient's agenda- secondary analysis of recorded clinical encounters. Journal of General Internal Medicine (epub ahead of print). doi: 10.1007/s11606-018-4540-5

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