This One Skill Can Build Your Patient's Confidence and Lead to Better Outcomes

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01/31/2018 in Blog

A physician’s job is comprised of many tasks: evaluating, diagnosing, interpreting, counseling, treating, and more. All of these responsibilities are significant, but in order to be truly effective, physicians need to do one thing exceptionally well:  listen.  

Health systems and physicians are trying hard to listen and understand consumers well before they book appointments.  Consumer preferences and expectations are changing the healthcare landscape and patient acquisition process, and hospitals need to create a plan to garner interest and awareness through digital channels. Consumers have spoken, and their needs are driving hospitals to create an online strategy to show that they’re paying attention.  Once the patient is in the exam room, physicians can do a few simple things to emphasize listening and understanding.

It’s no secret that physicians are scrambling to see more patients in less time to make up for increased financial pressure.  One eye on the patient and one eye on the clock can lead to patient dissatisfaction, missed opportunities to get patients actively involved in their own health, and poor outcomes. In order to provide the best care for patients and improve the doctor-patient relationship, it’s critical for doctors to make the most of the limited face to face time they get during an appointment.  This can be achieved by becoming a better listener.  

Each patient comes with a unique experience, perspective, and problem. They are looking to tell their story and have it be received with compassion and translated into actionable care.  By taking the time to really listen to patients, and understand their concerns and fears, a partnership can develop and from that.  Essentially, a mutually beneficial plan of treatment.  Patients will become more confident, more trusting, and more motivated to take control of their health.  

Want to be a better listener?  These 3 steps to can help physicians connect meaningfully with their patients:

  1. Maintain eye contact

The use of Electronic Health Records (EHR) means that you likely spend much of your time taking notes during a patient visit.  Although you are trying to correctly capture their comments, it may appear like you aren’t listening if your eyes are focused on the computer.  When you focus more on what your patient is saying and you are able to maintain eye contact, you might also pick up some visual emotional cues.  

  1. Repeat or summarize what was said

Repeating or summarizing what you just heard back to your patient will not only help you remember their story, but it gives the patient the opportunity to adjust or confirm their remarks.  It also enforces that you were listening, and understanding.

  1. When listening, just listen

Your patient wants to tell you what they want to tell you.  Often, they just need the opportunity to vent or talk it out.  Initially, try not to jump in with solutions;  giving your patient the opportunity to talk without interruption.  You may  draw the visit to a close sooner if a patient has had the opportunity to fully expressed themselves.  

Medical visits, procedures, and tests are often very scary for patients, and often times, their internet research can only exacerbate their fear and reluctance to pursue treatment.  Effectively listening to your patients can help you communicate expectations and ensure that outcomes are driven by the patient’s treatment goals.  

Better listening skills provide the foundation for an optimal patient-doctor relationship. You will instill confidence in your patient, driving them to take greater control of their health and improving outcomes.  This important skill will not only lead to increased patient satisfaction, but also your own.  

Adapted from "Building Confidence By Taking the Time to Listen” by Dr. Kade Huntsman.