Chitchat isn’t idle. Small talk can actually improve the doctor-patient relationship and increase your job satisfaction. Here’s how:
1. It nurtures trust. When we make small talk with our patients, we usually discover common ground, which makes us more human and relatable and helps us connect with one another. Patients who trust us may be more honest, open, and likely to follow through with our recommendations.
2. It elicits information about the patient’s health. Making small talk can be a useful way of gathering information about our patients. For example, by asking a newly widowed patient about his hobbies, we open up the opportunity for that patient to tell us about his grief in a nonthreatening and open-ended way. Similarly, asking a senior citizen about her bowling group or the latest senior bus trip may tell us more about her arthritic knees, macular degeneration, and depression than our brief history and exam.
3. It improves our own satisfaction. Interacting with patients is often the most rewarding part of being a physician and the reason many of us were drawn to family medicine. It feels good at the end of a busy day to feel that we’ve touched the lives of our patients – and that they’ve touched ours.
To build your “small talk” abilities, start by taking a good social history that includes asking about the patient’s interests and life events, and write a brief note in the chart: “still in senior bowling league,” “youngest just went off to college,” “husband travels a lot for work,” or “just joined a health club.” These notes will help trigger your memory and spark conversation at the next visit.
Read the full FPM article: “The Big Deal About Small Talk.”
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