During a visit, patients sometimes exhibit behavior indicating negative emotions are beneath the surface, even if they don’t verbalize them. Allowing these feelings to remain unaddressed can hinder the healing process and complicate the doctor-patient relationship. But you need to be tactful in how you do it. Here are two ways you can ask about the patient’s emotions:
1. Directly: “Mr. Smith, it seems like something is really bothering you today. Would you like to talk about it?” This could lead to an intense expression of feelings, so be prepared. But getting the emotions out in the open can help you begin to address them.
2. Gently: “Mrs. Jones, I sense that I may have done something to upset you, and if so I would like for us to discuss it. Am I correct, or could I be mistaken?” This type of language allows you to probe the issue with sensitivity, recognizing the vulnerability patients may feel and giving them the space they need to be comfortable sharing their emotions with you.
Once the emotions are no longer hidden, you still need to use empathy and avoid taking the behavior personally as you try to resolve the patient's concerns – if you can. But taking the time to listen and begin the path to healing can be the most rewarding thing you do all day.
Read the full FPM article: “What to Do When Emotions Run High in the Exam Room.”
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