What Patients Want: Doctors Who Listen

Go to an online review site like Yelp, and you’ll find common threads regarding why patients like their doctor. For example:

“Dr. C. is the best doctor ever! She really takes time with her patients, and she truly listens.”

“I’ve never been to such a nice and helpful doctor before. Dr. K. really listened to me and gave me several options I could consider.”

“Dr. S. is an amazing doctor. He is patient and mild-mannered. He listens to all your issues and never interrupts you.”

Listening, asking and answering questions, not seeming rushed, discussing options … clearly these communication skills score big with patients.

The Institute for Healthcare Communication says studies show patients are relatively uninformed about their condition or the most appropriate treatment, but most say they want more information. And, studies show that informed patients who are actively involved in decision making are more satisfied, have a better quality of life, and have better health outcomes — and, apparently, they are sometimes inspired to go online to share the good news about the doctor who provided them these benefits.

Engagement. Connect with your patient by showing interest in her as a person, ascertaining her expectations up front, clarifying her reasons for the office visit, and using her language rather than medical jargon.

Connect with your patient by showing interest in her as a person, ascertaining her expectations up front, clarifying her reasons for the office visit, and using her language rather than medical jargon.

Empathy. Make sure your patient feels heard, seen, and accepted. For example, introduce yourself to him while he is fully clothed, make eye contact — at his eye level — while discussing symptoms or treatment, and reaffirm what he tells you by using his own words.

Education. The average patient asks only two questions during a medical visit lasting an average of 15 minutes, according to the Bayer Institute. But she probably wants to know more. Assess what she already knows and ask questions to determine what she might be wondering. Assume that every patient wants to know the answer to core questions such as: What happened and why? What is the treatment and will it hurt? When will I get test results?  

Enlistment. The typical patient goes to your office after having made his own diagnosis, which he is looking to confirm. Enlistment requires you and your patient to come to an agreement about the problem and prescribed treatment so he will follow the treatment plan. Be sure you explain dosages, side effects, and other detailsin plain language.

TMA  can help. You can find a selection of courses in the TMA Education Center covering many facets of patient communication.

Updated Dec. 12, 2012 


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