The best physicians standout from others by their ability to connect with patients and communicate complex sensitive information. While surgical and other clinical tasks take years of training to hone, we can ALL practice the people skills that the finest physicians use every day. Let’s examine the true art of medicine…connecting with others.
1. Be On Time
While the packed waiting room with screaming children and two-hour waits exists in some practices… effective clinicians run ON TIME. Whether a first date or your spouse of 20 years, being late sets a tone of disrespect. Unexpected events occur… text or better yet call and notify your appointment you’re running behind. Be apologetic even if the delay is out of your control. “I’m sorry but there is a five-car pileup on the freeway,” will rarely meet with a lack of understanding.
2. Know Your Subject
Thorough clinicians review charts and other data BEFORE they meet their patients. If it’s an online date, review their profile so you have starting points to converse. It shows effort on your part and a genuine interest in the other person. Prepare for meetings. Write down the potential questions or points you wish to cover whether for business or even a parent-teacher conference.
3. Sit Down. Listen
The body language of a clinician who stands while interviewing a patient screams “I’m too busy and preoccupied”. Mix in crossed arms and close-ended “yes/no” questions and your “patient” will shut down in under two minutes. Ask OPEN ended questions such as, “You seem upset. Can you tell me what’s been happening that has you feeling this way?” This type of inquiry invites your party to begin a dialogue with you. Now close your mouth, maintain eye contact, put your phone away, and REALLY listen. Continue with open-ended questions and AVOID statements for at least two minutes. Standing by the door of a troubled teen and asking, “Are you okay?” shows minimal desire on your behalf of wanting to truly engage. A good listener is a rare find. It takes effort. It is the yardstick by which the greatness of doctors, parents, spouses and practically all others are measured. Practice becoming a good listener. It may be your most valuable acquired life skill.
4. Advice Not Needed
A physician who practices the art of medicine synthesizes a patient’s story and ALL information before they begin to treat. Troubled teens, divorcing parents, frustrated partners – want to be HEARD. An overbearing boss, a tormenting bully, a cheating spouse… if someone has chosen to confide in you during troubled times, this is a high compliment. Listen intently. Reflect. ONLY offer advice if it is requested. Interjecting with statements like “leave him”, “tell the principal”, before the person has completed their story will provoke frustration and a shutdown in communication. You don’t have to have all the answers. A willing set of ears is the best medicine for most situations.
5. Follow up
Thorough clinicians follow up on labs and other tests in a timely fashion. They call patients back who have questions. They ensure future appointments for those needing additional care. Check in with loved ones. A simple text or brief call goes a long way in expressing how much you care. Set aside time on a Sunday to text or call family and friends. If someone has confided their troubles to you, show how you value their trust by checking in with them the following week. A common thread amongst those mourning the loss of a loved one is the REGRET they feel for not reaching out to that person more often. Don’t live in regret.
The best clinicians are not those with the greatest clinical acumen or medical training pedigree. Studies show physicians who suffer the FEWEST malpractice cases are those with the strongest relationships with their patients. Even when a medical error has occurred, clinicians with strong communication skills are rarely sued by their patients. We ALL make mistakes. We are flawed. We are human.
Respect, listen, connect, reflect and follow up. These traits are “medicine” we can all reap the benefits of.