Medical practitioners have often been likened to mechanics. The comparison between the two has some merit: both diagnose problems, both use particular tools, and, unfortunately, both suffer from the stereotype of being a bit blunt. While a mechanic’s “patient” has no feelings to consider, healthcare professionals treat complicated individuals who book appointments precisely because they are not feeling well. Focusing entirely on the clinical aspect of patient care neglects a patient’s emotional needs, which can not only cause a patient discomfort, but can negatively impact patient compliance as well, making effective diagnosis and treatment much more difficult.
Bedside manner is important and some healthcare providers are naturally more adept at comforting people than others. Fortunately, this crucial skill can be taught. According to an article in The Atlantic, a study showed that a simple audio tutorial greatly improved doctors’ communication skills. Doctors who took the CD-based course showed more empathy and were better at eliciting patient concerns, which resulted in increased patient trust.
Formal courses can certainly improve bedside manner, but there are several simple tactics you can implement now that will help put your patient more at ease.
- Introduce yourself: A warm welcome will do wonders to help a patient relax. Shake their hand. Say hello. If any friends, family, or caretakers are present, introduce yourself to them too. Acknowledging those important to your patient will make you seem considerate and caring.
- Sit, don’t stand: Would you like to have someone loom over you like a elementary school teacher waiting to be disappointed when you ask for help? Probably not. Patients will feel more comfortable conversing with someone at eye-level.
- Don’t interrupt: Letting your patient speak their mind will make them feel respected, and will likely lead to a more accurate description of what ails them. You wouldn’t want a medical condition to go undiagnosed for 15 years because you didn’t listen, would you?
- Ask permission: Patients can be at their most vulnerable when they pay you a visit. A physical examination may seem routine to you, but it could be shocking for your patient. Asking permission before making physical contact will help patients prepare for what could otherwise seem like an invasive experience.
- Choose words wisely: Patients are concerned when they come to you. Many could be imagining the worst possible outcome before hearing your diagnosis. So it’s important to use language that avoids sounding the alarm. For instance, it would be better to say, “Everything is fine,” rather than “Nothing’s wrong,” or “There’s no problem.”
- Empathize: Empathy is the quality of being able to identify with someone’s feelings. While it’s likely you have not experienced exactly the same situation as a patient, you can let them know that you “understand what they’re going through.” Circumstances don’t need to be dire to show empathy. If a patient mentions planning a wedding, you can comment on how exciting it must be.
- Ensure they understand: Patients can feel overwhelmed with all the information they must absorb regarding their diagnosis and treatment. Take the time to make sure they understand what’s happening by avoiding medical jargon. Also, provide materials patients can refer to after their visit to learn more about their condition or treatment options, but make sure you’re familiar with the materials you provide to adequately answer of their questions.
Remember, positive patient experiences yield better outcomes regarding recovery, while increasing the likelihood that they’ll refer friends, family, and co-workers to your practice.