The Six ‘I’s of Patient Experiences: Interpersonal

November 13, 2011
George Taylor

Developing the soft skills of creating interpersonal connections, projecting empathy, and communicating effectively will help improve patient satisfaction.

Few activities in the life of a patient are as highly personal as their health and medical treatment. With so much at stake for the patient, they seek a personal connection with you and your staff. Developing the soft skills of creating interpersonal connections, projecting empathy, and communicating effectively will help improve patient satisfaction. Here are three ways you and your staff can create positive connections with your patients.

Introductions and first impressions count. Use the patient's name. Study after study shows the power of simply using someone's name as you talk with them to create powerful human bonds. Train your staff as they're escorting patients back from reception to use the patient's name in conversation. New patients should be referred to formally as Mr. or Mrs./Ms. and over time the patient may give permission or your staff can ask for permission to use the patient's first name. As a physician, when you enter the exam room be sure to shake hands and introduce yourself. Make solid eye contact in those first few seconds rather than being distracted reading through their chart. That first impression is a key moment of truth for patients where interpersonal bonds are developed or destroyed. Always introduce yourself to anyone else in the room that the patient has brought along for the visit. Oftentimes, patients who have anxiety about their appointment will bring a spouse or family member along - view their presence as a signal of the state of mind of the patient - and be sure to formally introduce yourself to the guest as well. The patient will talk with the guest after the appointment and validate their opinion of you and your staff.

Put the person back in interpersonal. It's easy when you've seen 15 to 20 patients in a day all presenting the same symptoms and the next one comes along, to slip into a quick routine of diagnosis and prescription. Remember to focus on each patient as an individual. Recognize that patient has not seen 15 to 20 other clinicians today and they treasure the time they're going to spend with you to get to feel better. They may have been mentally preparing for this encounter for a week or more and likely shifted activities around in their calendar to spend the time with you. A great technique is to jot a few personal notes down in their chart as you or your staff is talking with them casually. What are their hobbies? Do they have kids? What activities are their kids involved in? You can use that kind of insight later as a way to make more personal connections. These are small things, and they appear to have minimal relevance to the clinical task at hand. However, that connection helps patients be more engaged in their treatment plan and builds a stronger relationship that helps build your business.

Use good communication techniques. The first and most important technique is to use active listening. Nodding, listening with your full body, being expressive as you react to their comments - these are important tools to use. Listening attentively is frequently cited as a key driver of patient satisfaction. Certainly some patients like to share unnecessary information and it's appropriate to bring them back to the reason they made the appointment, but develop a self-awareness of how often you're interrupting versus listening. Solid eye contact with the patient as you're communicating with them or they're talking with you enables the two of you to truly communicate. Eye contact helps you develop an awareness of your patient and pick up on subtle cues that indicate their level of understanding, their belief in your treatment plan and their level of distraction during the interaction. Be sure to move your body to the same level as the patient and face them with your full body directly as you're talking. Build these simple communication techniques into your routine. It takes no incremental time and will create a better connection with your patients.

As medical care gets more competitive and patients have more choices of where they're treated, creating that personal bond can be an important differentiator for your practice.

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