Be Present


When demands and distractions intrude on your patient encounters, practice these tips for being fully present.

Fam Pract Manag. 2016 Jan-Feb;23(1):8-9.

Author disclosure: no relevant financial affiliations disclosed.

More and more physicians are choosing employed practice over private practice to avoid the stresses of running an office and “just focus on patients.” But even employed practice has its challenges, from productivity demands to piles of paperwork, that can easily steal your attention away from your patients. In those moments when it feels like you are rushing from exam room to exam room or just going through the motions, pause and recite the following words: Be present.

Presence is a profound gift that family doctors can give their patients. It is more than being physically present; it is stepping into the sacred space of another person's world.

We have all experienced a patient encounter where we were distracted. We were technically present, but not authentically present. We sensed the disconnect, that feeling that something was missing in the encounter, and our patients likely sensed it as well. It's like a spouse who reads the paper at breakfast and, when accused by his wife of not listening, parrots what she just said but finds he's still in the doghouse because he didn't make her feel heard.

Authentic presence makes the other person feel heard, and it creates an emotional connection between human beings.

Here are some ways to practice being present with your patients:

1. Be intentional. Some physicians seem to have an innate ability to tune in to their patients, but for others this does not come as easily. Taking a moment to focus before entering the exam room and making a concentrated effort to be present and in the moment can be helpful. If you need help, post a sign on your office wall, write yourself a sticky note, or wear a rubber wrist band as a reminder to be present.

2. Be curious about the patient's agenda. In family medicine training, we often discuss the parallel tracks of the doctor's agenda and the patient's agenda. It is all too easy to rush through a visit pursuing your own agenda, but if you are fully present, you will ask about the patient's agenda as well. There has to be some give and take, some coming together of these parallel agendas, or the visit will not end in a satisfactory manner. (For more on this topic, see “Have You Really Addressed Your Patient's Concerns?FPM, March 2008.)

3. Be careful with the use of technology. Most of us are still struggling with how to best use technology in the exam room. It seems that the more gadgets

About the Author

J. LeBron McBride is director of behavioral medicine at Floyd Medical Center's Family Medicine Residency in Rome, Ga. He is the author of more than 80 published works and is a licensed family therapist and pastoral counselor.

Author disclosure: no relevant financial affiliations disclosed.


Copyright © 2016 by the American Academy of Family Physicians.
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