Patient Relations Requires Ongoing Training By Physicians

July 28, 2011

I believe wholeheartedly that we should be training ourselves to make deeper and faster connections with patients. Because, ultimately, the connections we have with our patients determine how well patients do and how much job satisfaction, let alone revenue, we enjoy.

In medical school, we trained for tests. Spending countless hours studying anatomy, biochemistry, and physiology, we strived to do well and pass all of the countless tests and lab practicals we faced. We each developed our own training methods: late night cramming, daily note taking, nightly library encounters. 

During residency, we trained for completion: completing the shift, the rotation, the year. Yes, we very much wanted to learn as much as we could, but we also wanted to complete it all so that we could return to a somewhat normal lifestyle and further control of our medical careers.

Now we are in our own practices and we see lots of patients in the exam rooms and operating rooms. But, have you asked yourself: What am I training for?

Athletes and actors spend lots of time training to perform each week or each night. Artists and craftsmen train themselves for better productions. What are doctors supposed to train ourselves for?

I believe wholeheartedly that we should be training ourselves to make deeper and faster connections with patients. Because, ultimately, the connections we have with our patients determine how well patients do and how much job satisfaction, let alone revenue, we enjoy.

Unfortunately, for most doctors, the training we do is focused on the "science" of medicine. It is training by staying up to date on the latest new drugs, the best guidelines, the newest protocols for this disease and that disease. When was the last time you attended a CME regarding: “How to interact and connect better with your patients?” Most likely never.

But the frank reality is this: at least 90 percent of what we do is related to personal interaction and the remaining 10 percent or so is related to the science of medicine. Simply put, a far better way for reaching patient “goals” is to connect with them: on a deeper level and at a faster pace.

Why? If we break down and truly dig down to why a patient has diabetes or heart disease or cancer or fatigue, it is because they have become “stuck” on some level. This can be hormonally, detoxification wise, nutritionally, metabolically, etc. They have gotten stuck and don’t know how to become unstuck. As a result they stop eating well, start gaining weight, and overall stop moving forward from a healthy vantage point. We generally end up seeing our patients when they are somewhere down this path - some patients are more severe and some less severe.

But ALL of our patients want to feel better - this translates to them wanting to feel validated and cared for and listened to. The greatest part to this equation is that when patients feel validated and listened to and cared for by you, the doctor, they are much more willing to participate in the plan you pave ahead for them to feel better. This step cannot be undermined and is crucial.

Most doctors do not grasp this. They feel that as long as they are writing prescriptions and keeping their patients within the current guidelines, that their patients are doing well. And while this may be true some of the time, in most cases, if patients do not feel that they are part of the plan (listened to, validated, etc.) they will not be compliant.

So to me, the training that matters most for a doctor is training to connect with his/her patients. The good news is that you do not need to wait for CME meetings to obtain this training. This can be accomplished every single day by practicing how you speak to patients, by using more positive word choices with patients and by using body language to help convey your concern.

The more you practice and train on how well and how quickly you connect with your patients, the more satisfaction from each patient encounter you can expect as well. And it is clear that the more satisfied you are, the more revenue will flow towards you.

My advice breaks from the conventional thoughts that the only way to increase revenue is by focusing on the “administration” stuff: the scheduling, the coding, the billing. You can train all you want for that, but if you cannot connect with your patients and enjoy that connection, your revenue streams will stop flowing freely. Remember, medicine is grounded in the principle of one patient, one doctor in the exam room. This is where your focus should be. So do yourself a favor and start training for how to make that experience for you and for your patients a better one.

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