Studies show the best way to obtain this information from patients is by creating a trusting doctor-patient relationship, but many patients hate going to the doctor. You have to answer deeply personal questions, feel vulnerable, and worry about being judged on your personal habits.
However, as a medical practitioner, knowing all this personal and vulnerable information leads to better patient care. Patients need to feel their treatment is a collaborative effort. Here are 8 tips on creating better relationships with your patients.
Exchange the usual pleasantries at the beginning of an appointment.
Although your time with a patient may be limited, this does not excuse impolite behavior. Greeting a patient with, “Hello, how are you?” or other common greetings helps them relax and shows that you care about their well being. If you remember something about your last interaction with them, feel free to bring that up. Questions like, “How is school going?” or “I remember last time you said your daughter was starting a new job. How is that going for her?” creates a personal environment, leaving the patient feeling like more than a body in a sea of appointments.
Make eye contact.
The eyes are the window to the soul. Making eye contact during a conversation creates a feeling of mutual likeability and caring. Too little eye contact comes off as insincere, uncaring, and unprepared, while too much eye contact seems intimidating and dominating. In a recent analysis of patient complaints, a large county hospital found 9 out of 10 letters contained complaints about poor doctor-patient eye contact, which is generally interpreted as a lack of caring. In general, a rule of 30-60% eye contact during a conversation - more when you are listening, less when you are speaking, is the best ratio to create a trusting, comfortable environment.
Sit when talking to patients.
Sitting with a patient makes them feel you are both on the same level. Similar to sitting down for coffee with an old friend, sitting with a patient removes the power differential of an expert talking to a layperson. It creates a more welcoming and friendly environment, allowing the patient to feel comfortable enough to divulge personal information like drug and alcohol use.
Respond with empathy.
Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of others. Going to the doctor can be scary and anxiety producing for many patients. Actively listening and responding with empathy puts your patients at ease and lets them know you care. It also creates trust and respect, allows patients to express their feelings, and creates a safe environment for them to talk about what ails them.
Listen without interrupting.
Allow your patient to fully explain what is bothering them. In an article for Family Practice Management, one physician said most patients tell you 90% of what's wrong if allowed to talk for three or four minutes. Most physicians, on average, interrupt patients after approximately 18 seconds. Interjecting to keep patients on track is fine, but allow the patient to speak as much as possible before speaking. Check out this list of 10 tips to listen to patients effectively.
Provide ways to make the patient feel more comfortable.
Modesty is an issue for many patients that can lower their comfort with a physician. Although you may see barely clothed people all day, putting on a backless gown can be embarrassing and demoralizing for a lot of people. To help your patient maintain their dignity, remember to fully close all doors when a patient is changing and offer gowns that cover both the front and the back when transporting patients to different rooms.
Even if you’re rushed, make sure your patient will not notice.
Patients pick up on your energy. If you are rushed and nervous, they will start to become rushed and nervous. Conveying your stress to your patient makes them feel like they’re not important and they will question your expertise. Be like a swimming duck - paddling your feet quickly underwater, while appearing calm, cool, and collected above the surface.
Respect the patient’s values, preferences, and expressed needs.
Patients come from all different backgrounds, value systems, cultures, and religions. While this may make for more diverse care, it will make your patient feel valued if you’re listening to and taking into consideration everything that makes them the person they are. While you may not agree with certain values or preferences, taking these things into account when possible creates more shared decision making and better patient-centered care. There will be times when only one superior path of treatment is available, and when those times occur, make sure your patient feels heard, despite going against their wishes. Read Dr. Leslie William's list of 7 Commandments of Positive Patient Interaction.
Aptly named, Enclothed Cognition is the official Medelita blog for medical professionals interested in topics relevant to a discerning and inquisitive audience. Medelita was founded by a licensed clinician who felt strongly about the connection between focus, poise and appearance.