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As leaders in the healthcare community, we know that we doctors are faced with an increasing number of stressors with each passing day be it increased patient load, rampant commercialization of healthcare services, professionalism demanded by heads of corporate hospitals etc has to lead to a deterioration in doctor-patient relationships and the quality of having a healing touch has almost disappeared.
Collectively and individually, doctors are losing some of their capacity to form connections that are not only essential for an excellent patient experience but also for the quality of care and safety. Quite simply, the demands of their work and the lack of effective skills to address them strain doctor’s ability to consistently deliver care in an efficient, caring, high-quality fashion.
The 5 most simple and important skills for better doctor patient relationships are:
These skills apply wonderfully to patient encounters as well as to interactions between co-workers, friends, and family. Mastering these skills would make you the doctor which ideally every patient desires. At their essence, we are familiar to all but may need some nurturing. They are skills that can be learned, practiced and mastered by anyone.
There are innumerable tasks competing for a doctor’s attention. Not being in the moment can lead to distractions, and what may seem like innocuous occurrences can have lasting and devastating results. Breakdowns due to not being in the moment can range from the dramatic (a wrong-site procedure) to the more subtle (a patient who leaves saying: “That doctor is probably pretty good, but you can’t talk to him. He didn’t seem to want to know my concerns.”) These instances erode patients’ trust in you.
So let patient’s have your complete undivided attention. Both formal and informal practices of teaching presence and mindfulness are readily available. For example, strong communicators understand that you must be present in the moment to be effective. Taking a deep breath and a time for calm before seeing the patient can also do the trick.
Try this sometime in your next encounter with a co-worker, patient or even a family member: Actively listen. See what happens when you do not interrupt — at all — and just listen. Don’t click through your phone, Don’t review the case paper in front of you, read messages or look at your phone. After you’ve listened, reflect what you heard back to the person.
You will be astonished to discover how valuable it is to feel heard as well as how much information they can obtain in a short period of time. This skill is not just about making others feel good: The degree to which patients can tell their own stories affects outcomes.
Headaches are more likely to resolve. Hypertension improves.- So give the patient a patient ear !
These are really two skills but are inextricably combined. Pressed for time, doctors often find themselves immediately launching into the details of a patient’s first complaint. Studies have shown that it is often the second or third complaint that is of greatest importance to the patient. Is it any surprise, then, that studies have also shown that 80 percent of patients feel their doctors are too busy to listen?
So what to do ?
First, solicit the patient’s list of concerns. Don’t go into detail. Just elicit the list. Say, “What else?” Once you have the response- complaint A, B, and C, work with the patient to determine what will be done during the visit. The response should be more like: “We agree problem A is important. You expressed concern about B, and I would also like to address C.”
Too many times, physicians find themselves in front of frustrated patients or having a difficult conversation with a co-worker. Knowing how to identify the friction, acknowledge it and address it is critical to any relationship.
First, take some time to recognize the emotion: “You look frustrated (confused, angry, upset, etc.).” Then, respond, perhaps with a helpful tool called “PEARLS”:
These skills are simple but require purposeful development and implementation. It is easy to lose them in the midst of hectic days and increasing demands. With consistent practice and use in clinical, professional and personal lives, these skills are a path to stronger doctor-patient relationships and a shift in organisational culture. With that foundation, improvements in quality, safety, efficiency and patient experience can flourish.
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