The Exchange

Commentary and Observations from
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Connecting with our Patients: What Matters Most

Connecting with our Patients: What Matters Most

We all have busy clinical days, but it is still important to make a personal connection with our patients. I think it is fair to say that one of the main reasons we chose our professions is that we really want to help and care for patients. That personal connection is what drives all of us, and it is vital to make sure we are taking the right steps to effectively connect with patients.

In a recent article in the Journal of the American Medical Association, researchers observed and interviewed physicians and patients from three different clinics to determine what matters most in a successful patient-clinician encounter. The researchers wanted to determine what clinicians can do to improve their presence in the exam room, as well as improve the levels of focus and attention that are placed on the patient. The results of this study, along with a comprehensive literature review, allowed the authors to identify five key methods to improve the patient-clinician interaction at a visit. They were:

  1. Prepare for meaningful interaction This is an individual process of being fully prepared for all interactions with patients. It should be tailored to your specific personality and comfort level.
  2. Listen attentively and completely An open and approachable clinician will get the most from the patient when they present themselves with an open mind and are ready to listen. We should try not to interrupt the patient, instead allowing them to talk and ask open-ended questions to promote communication.
  3. Agree on health goals Negotiate with your patient so that you are both agreeable on the goals of the visit. I have many colleagues who say, "If everything is important, then nothing is important." This is very true in a time-limited encounter where you need to get to the root of why the patient is there. Having specific priorities helps generate the most from a short visit.
  4. Connect with the patient Reinforce your relationship with the patient and make sure you engage with them by using empathy, understanding, and compassion. Ask follow-up questions for concerning items, and make sure you respond to the cues that patients give. A proper response with empathy and compassion ensures the patient that you are listening.
  5. Tune in to emotional hints Like connecting with your patient, making sure you respond appropriately is critical. How many times have we heard a patient describe frustration over a clinician not hearing what they have to say? The article emphasizes that we must acknowledge the responses patients are giving and react appropriately to help convey that we are hearing their concerns.

These helpful suggestions were validated by this study and provide clinicians with another tool to use when reflecting on how to connect with patients in a busy clinical environment. So next time you’re working, consider practicing these five things to help improve your practice.

  • Zulman DM, Haverfield MC, Shaw JG, et al. Practices to foster physician presence and connection with patients in the clinical encounter. JAMA. 2020;323:70-81.

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Filed under: NPs & PAs, Practice Management/Career

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