Good communication is the bedrock of good care. In the busyness of day-to-day practice, don’t neglect these seven basic skills:
1. Greet each patient by name with a smile and a handshake when you enter the exam room. Such pleasantries help build rapport and trust.
2. Sit down. This puts you at the patient’s eye level or below, which relaxes the patient and encourages open communication.
3. Focus your attention on the patient. Don’t look at your watch, don’t keep one hand on the doorknob, and don't appear rushed, even if you are. Such behaviors imply that the patient in front of you isn't as important as what you’re doing next.
4. Keep the conversation on track. When a patient goes off on a tangent and the conversation begins to lack relevance, gently guide him or her back to the matter at hand. This helps maximize the value of the time you have together.
5. Communicate with a dual purpose. Often what seems like small talk can yield helpful information. For example, if you ask a patient if he’s done any travel lately, his answer may help you assess mobility issues or pain levels.
6. Listen without interrupting. If you let the patient speak for three to four minutes before you ask a question or offer advice, you are likely to get more information and save time in the long run. In general, listen more than you talk.
7. Look at the patient. When you maintain eye contact, patients often perceive that they have spent more time with you. Of course you’ll need to look at the chart or your computer screen from time to time, but when you have the chance to look at the patient, don’t waste it by staring at the floor.
Read the full FPM article: “Improving Patient Communication in No Time.”
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