We have all the heard the familiar phrase “it is not what you say, but how you say it”, but what if this rule could also be applied to how we listen?
Effective listening leads to better understanding, a crucial component to determining the best decisions for your patients. Whether making a diagnosis, determining a treatment plan, or assessing mental health, active listening is the first step toward making an informed decision. But as with any skill, it does take practice to master.
Here are 10 tips to improve the way you listen to your patients.
1.Do not be too quick to reply. There are occasions where a patient simply wants someone to tell his or her feelings. By rushing to reply, it can make them feel as if their concerns are being dismissed or not taken seriously.
2.No interruptions. One statistic estimated that physicians interrupt patients within 23 seconds as they try to explain their problems. Even if what the patient is saying warrants an explanation, allow them to finish expressing his or herself first.
3.Tone can be helpful, but in some cases it can be a hindrance. Pay attention closely to a patient’s tone because even if what they are saying sounds reasonable, if they sometimes have a sad or angry tone it could be indicative of an underlying mental health issue. On the other hand, if a patient seems to always be complaining, it can be easy to only focus on their tone rather than what they are saying. It is very possible that this is just their personality, and that their health care concerns are legitimate.
4.Ensuring that the exam room is free of clutter and completely organized before a patient encounter will help avoid certain distractions. After the patient is done speaking, your supplies and information will be easily accessible.
5.No need to stare, but making eye contact with your patient shows them you are listening, and allows you to pick up on their reaction. Many times patients will not ask the questions that come to their minds, which leads to improper care practices once they leave the office. If you are looking at your patient and notice a reaction to a comment you make, you have an opportunity to ask them to share their opinion.
6.All patients want to feel like their doctor respects them. Listening to opposing opinions, their ideas for treatment, and showing concern are simple ways to show that you are on their side. The more comfortable a patient is with you, the more likely they are to adhere to your treatment plan and maintain preventative care.
7. Listen with a purpose. Remember that you are trying to comprehend the patient’s message, and then assess its meaning.
8. Reflective listening is a way to make sure you thoroughly understand the patient, and also is another way to display to the patient that you truly are listening.
9. Diagnostic accuracy can be affected when decisions are being made from incomplete information. Make sure to pay close attention to the patient history, and then listen to the story they tell at the beginning of the encounter.
10. Ask for feedback. Even when you think you are implementing the best listening strategies possible, there is always room for improvement. Patient surveys may suggest refining your care in ways you had not previously considered.