10 Tips to Help Doctors Tune in to Their Patients

10TipstoHelpDoctorsTuneintoTheirPatientsIt’s an unfortunate reality that many people dread going to the doctor, fearing that their concerns won’t be addressed or the doctor’s too busy or isn’t really listening to them. Studies have shown that patients appreciate the rare physician that spends just the right amount of time with them, giving the patient their undivided attention.

Carefully listening to your patients is a good objective, but how do you realistically follow through on this goal when there aren’t enough hours in the day to accomplish all that you have to do?

Listening skills, according to a Wall Street Journal story, are down considerably. For most people, the ability to think more than twice the speed people talk means there’s more time for the listener’s mind to wander. Further, a 1987 study of conversational recall showed that people only remember about 10 percent of what they heard after a brief distraction. And doctors have all kinds of distractions, from emergency calls to staff and patient questions to scheduling issues. No wonder it’s tough to concentrate on listening to every patient every day.

Here are 10 ways to tune in to your patients’ needs and concerns:

#1 Watch facial expressions – Focus on the patient’s face as they’re speaking. This helps you better gauge the emotion and meaning behind the words being spoken.

#2 Pay attention to your own emotions – Before entering the room to see the patient, check your emotions at the door. You may have had a difficult situation with the previous patient or are concerned about another’s well-being, but this patient you’re about to see deserves your 100 percent attention now.

#3 Write down important things to say, questions to ask – There’s not a lot of time to cover everything you need to with each patient, but if you do have a minute or so before you enter the room, jot down questions to ask the patient or items you want to cover during the visit. This minimizes wasted time and leaves you room to listen to what your patient has to say.

#4 Use the 75/25 rule – A good way to keep your listening at the right level is to make use of the 75/25 rule. This means you listen 75 percent of the time and talk 25 percent of the time. It may not work out perfectly, but it’s a good goal.

#5 Use an acronym to focus your attention, if it helps – Some experts in listening skills recommend using some kind of an acronym to help bring your attention back to listening when it wanders. There’s RASA, which stands for Receiving (listening to) the information, paying Attention, Summarizing what you’ve heard, and Asking questions afterward.

#6 Make effective use of long pauses – If you think your patient is holding back due to discomfort, fear, shyness or is possibly struggling to find the words to describe symptoms, the judicious use of long pauses may help draw out the patient. Studies have shown that patients will open up to avoid long pauses, figuring that the doctor is waiting (rightly) for them to say something. When they do, be sure to listen.

#7 Avoid reacting immediately – You may have a recalcitrant patient, or one who’s difficult to treat. Here’s where it’s a good idea to avoid reacting immediately to whatever the patient has to say. Hold your judgment or urge to give advice or recommendations until the conversation – gently guided by you – gets more at the crux of the reason why the patient has come in to see you.

#8 Don’t interrupt – No one likes to be interrupted, least of all your patient. Give an adequate amount of time to allow the patient to finish his/her thoughts and wait for a pause before speaking. Your patient may be searching for something important to tell you, or recollecting a key symptom that you’ve just reminded them of in something you’ve said.

#9 Make the most of face-to-face time – When it’s time to see your patient, set technology aside as much as extent possible. This means no using the smartphone to make or take calls or texts. This is valuable time you’re spending with your patient. Make the most of it.

#10 Check your pre-existing assumptions at the door – All things are not what they seem. When you go in to see your patient, a quick visual scan may not be enough to rid you of expectations or pre-existing assumptions. If you go in with an open mind, you’re less likely to gloss over and/or not hear something important to the patient visit.

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