Patients dont care how much you know until they know how much you care.
Today’s patients want to play an active role in their medical treatment. How can you help to encourage their participation and improve your doctor-patient relationship ? The answer is simple – learn to communicate with them ! Even if you are very busy, it’s possible to be an effective communicator -- you simply need to communicate "smarter" by making better use of the time youve got. Communication with your patient is an art – what is often referred to as bedside manner
For most doctors, good communication is a skill like playing a musical instrument, which needs to be learned, and then practiced repeatedly to be perfected. The best communicators have an open mind, a receptive ear and an empathetic heart. Their good bedside manner is perfected through practice, experience and feedback from patients and other doctors. For these doctors, bedside manner comes naturally, and if you know a doctor with good communication skills, try to adopt him as your mentor and copy him !
You can also work on improving your interpersonal skills by following these tips
Remember your manners. Patients are more likely to follow your advice if they have a good relationship with you. How you enter a room is very important. Walk in with a smile, shake the patients hand, call the patient by name (first name or surname, whichever the patient prefers), and sit down. Make it a point to always remember the patient’s name – and if you have a bad memory, instruct your staff to prompt you ! You can also help to put the patient at ease by starting off with a simple " How can I help you ? "
Dont appear rushed, even if you are. Patients get irritated when their doctors appear hurried. Make each patient feel that they are in the center of the universe – focus all your attention on him. Sitting down and talking is far more effective than talking while standing up – and takes just a few seconds more !
Keep conversations on track. Helping patients stay on track is key to increasing efficiency and maximizing the value of the time you have with them. You need to guide them so they don’t wander off on a tangent !
Listen without interrupting. While your tendency may be to ask your patients a lot of questions up front, youll get more information and save time in the long run by actively listening to the patient without interrupting. Studies have shown that the patient normally speaks for an average of 18 seconds before the doctor interrupts. However, if you let them speak for three to four minutes, they tell you 90 percent of whats wrong with them
Organize your interviews. To make the most of your interview time, structure your patient interview. For example, if you want to explore the psychological aspects of a patients complaint you may want to try the "BATHE technique" , which divides the patient interview into the following components
• Background ("Tell me what has been happening.");
• Affect ("How do you feel about that?");
• Trouble ("Whats upsetting you most about it?");
• Handling ("How are you handling the situation?");
• Empathy ("That must have been difficult.").
Teach your patients how to communicate with you. Since communication is a 2-way process, it’s very useful to teach your patients how to discuss their concerns with you . You can teach them to use the simple formula, PREPARE, so they learn how to communicate with you.
P = Plan ( what they want to discuss)
RE = Report ( what they have experienced and what they feel about it)
P = Participate ( so it is a 2-way discussion)
A = Agree ( make a joint decision)
RE = Repeat ( so you can ensure they have understood correctly).
Use computers creatively. You can use e-mail to answer patients questions and avoid getting tied up in lengthy telephone conversations.
Educate your staff. Communication isnt just a doctor-patient issue. Your nurses and clinic staff also represent you to your patients .To strengthen the staff-patient relationship, hold staff training sessions on patient communication.
Do the unexpected. Keep in contact with your patients by routinely calling two or three of them each day – they will treasure this gesture.
Be sensitive. The vulnerability of the patient is something that doctors can forget too easily. Patients are frequently anxious, unaware of their diagnosis, afraid of cancer or death, worried about pain, and scared about the future. Sensitivity is vital in all your dealings with them.
Good communication with worried relatives is also a necessity. Anxiety and grief sometimes manifest themselves as anger. Often, when relatives complain about the treatment a patient has received, their distress could have been alleviated by talking to them and explaining things coherently and honestly.
All of us have our own preferred communication style, depending upon our personality. Analytical doctors focus on facts and figures, while emotional doctors focus on feelings. You need to look at yourself objectively, so you can determine what your preferred style of communication is. There is no right or wrong style – it’s just important that you be aware of what your preferences are – and your weak points as well, so you can work on them !
Communication is a two-way street, and for communication to be effective, you need to attune your style to the patient’s style . Patients have different personalities and communication styles, and you should be able to adapt your style according to the patient’s needs. You can become an expert on doing this if you learn NLP (Neuro Linguistic Programming) which teaches you how to mirror your patient’s behaviour, so you can mold their behaviour effectively.
Just like doctors, patients too have styles they prefer, depending upon their own personality. Some are emotional, and communicate through feelings. They respond to stories of other patients you have treated successfully. Analytical patients communicate objectively with logic and rational thinking. They need facts and figures and data, and are interested in your success rates and statistics. Scholarly patients need references and papers, and will respond to books and articles which support your recommendations. Socialisers are name-droppers, who are likely to be very influenced by who your other patients are. Pictures of you with famous personalities will impress then – as will your framed medical certificates and diplomas.
Doctors who can communicate well with their patients have happier patients; busier practices; greater income; and higher self-esteem. This is why learning how to improve your communication skills can be one of the most important investments of your time and energy. Communication is more than just words. Psychologists estimate that only 7% of any message is the spoken word; 38 % is voice quality ( tone, tempo, intonation); and 55% is body language. This means that most of what we communicate is non-verbal, and you need to be aware of your non-verbal communication cues – and those of your patient as well, so you can respond to them.
Since you communicate 55 percent of the time without ever saying a word, you ought to be paying attention to what your nonverbal signals are saying to patients. If you think youre simply too busy for a lesson in nonverbal communication, take heart: If you can spell "SOFTEN," you can begin to perfect your nonverbal signals right now.
S is for smile. A smile helps set patients at ease and generates positive feelings about you and your practice. This, in turn, breaks down barriers so you can uncover issues more quickly and openly.
O is for open posture. Open posture, which means no crossed legs, arms or hands, says you are approachable and willing to interact. Arms drawn together across your chest, on the other hand, can be intimidating or even condescending to patients
F is for forward lean. A slight forward lean toward the speaking party says, "Im trying to get closer because I really want to hear what you have to say."
T is for touch. As you introduce yourself, shake your patients hand in a warm and friendly manner. In addition to the nonverbal message the handshake sends, you will learn a lot about the patients psychological state. Is the hand warm, cold, jittery, sweaty? All are clues that may save you time.
E is for eye contact. Eye contact is probably the most important nonverbal communicator after smiling. If you maintain eye contact with your patients 85 percent of the time, you will be branded as an expert communicator and physician in the patients view. Eye contact conveys that you are paying attention to the individual, not being distracted by the chart or your notes or something else on your mind
N is for nod. As your patient speaks, nod occasionally. This simply means that you are listening and understand, not that you necessarily agree. Your nodding helps the patient move forward with complaints, rather than hesitating because he or she feels uncertain whether you are listening.
Remember that the single most important criterion by which patients judge you as a physician is the way you interact with them. It is therefore vital that you develop your understanding of your own communication style and adjust that style to meet the needs of various patients. If you include your patients as fully informed partners in their care, theyll pay you back by sticking with you through thick and thin. And as an added bonus, youll discover more satisfaction in your work, renewed motivation and increased productivity.
As with everything, the best way to develop a great bedside manner is to practise. By ensuring that you try and put every patient at ease and alleviate their anxieties, you will find your communication skills and natural empathy rise automatically. And when your patients smile at you and appreciate the way that you have treated them, their gratitude gives you a warm glow and reminds you why you went into medicine in the first place !