#7: Use Open Questions
“How does it feel?” is a far better question than “Does it hurt?” The first will encourage the patient to be descriptive about their problem, perhaps giving you information you did not expect, but the second simply leads to a “Yes” or a “No”, which is unlikely to give you the information you need. Prompting the patient to give long, detailed answers will enable you to be far more attuned to their needs and even build rapport by making it clear you are interested in their problem.
#8: Offer Reassurance
If the patient feels comfortable with you, they are more likely to get what they want out of the interaction and go away satisfied. But making someone feel at ease is not as simple as it seems.
It is important to put yourself in the other person’s shoes, but you are aiming for empathy not sympathy. Beware of the phrase “I know how you feel” — that could well make the patient feel patronized. Give them space, remind them you are bound by confidentiality, leave yourself open for further consultations and ensure they know you are always there if they have further questions.
#9: Choose Words Carefully
Try to be positive rather than negative. Avoid too much medical jargon. This will hopefully prevent the patient from becoming overly concerned. For example, it is far better to say “everything is fine” than “there’s nothing wrong” or “there’s not a problem,” because although the phrases may be identical in meaning, the patient will be fixate on negative words such as “problem” or “wrong.” Likewise, when warning a patient of a potentially dangerous side effect, you need to make sure they are aware of when to seek help without alarming them. Saying it is “important” to go to the doctor if they feel unwell is better than using words such as “emergency,” “dangerous” or “severe.”
#10: Stay In Control
You are busy, so it is important to remain in control of the situation. There will always be patients who want to spend all day talking about their problems. Do not be rude and bear in mind the need to listen to the patient and not brush them off — but do have some stock phrases ready to finish the conversation. If they are talking too much or offering too much detail, be prepared to bring them back on track. That way everyone gets a better quality of service.