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Listen Up: 3 Tips for Building Patient Confidence

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a person with endometrial hyperplasia is talking to a doctor

It’s a difficult time to be a physician. After having weathered the worst of the pandemic, doctors are experiencing burnout at record levels. According to the latest Medscape report, burnout levels among all physicians have jumped from 42% to 47%. The number one factor behind burnout is “too many bureaucratic tasks”, which includes charting, paperwork and other EHR-related tasks.

Eliciting the patient’s agenda

Unfortunately, the dreaded EHR can be a wedge that distracts healthcare professionals from giving patients their full attention. In a study originally published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine, researchers studied a sample of recorded patient encounters. What they found isn’t all that surprising.

Clinicians elicited the patient’s agenda in just over one-third (36%) of patient encounters. The patient’s agenda was elicited roughly half the time in primary care (49%), but only 20% of the time in specialty care settings. In two out of three encounters, the physician interrupted the patient after just 11 seconds.

What makes a good doctor?

Healthgrades analyzed more than 2 million text comments provided in physician ratings. Among ratings with negative sentiment towards physicians, the number one factor cited is time spent on the office visit. Time spent in the exam room topped wait time and office staff as the most important factors that can lead to a dissatisfied patient.

It’s well understood that communication and listening are crucial skills for physicians. Giving patients the time needed to express their concerns, without interruption, builds confidence and trust.

Tips for better listening

We spoke with Dr. Kade Hunstman, an orthopedic surgeon with St. Mark’s Hospital in Salt Lake City. Here are his top tips for being a better listener and connecting meaningfully with patients.

1. Maintain eye contact.

The use of Electronic Health Records (EHR) means that you likely spend much of your time taking notes during a patient visit. Although you are trying to correctly capture their comments, it may appear like you aren’t listening if your eyes are focused on the computer. When you focus more on what your patient is saying and you are able to maintain eye contact, you might also pick up some visual emotional cues.

2. Repeat or summarize what was said.

Repeating or summarizing what you just heard back to your patient will not only help you remember their story, but it gives the patient the opportunity to adjust or confirm their remarks. It also enforces that you were listening, and understanding.

3. When listening, just listen.

Your patient wants to tell you what they want to tell you. Often, they just need the opportunity to vent or talk it out. Initially, try not to jump in with solutions; give your patient the opportunity to talk without interruption. You may draw the visit to a close sooner if a patient has had the opportunity to fully express themselves.

The bottom line

It’s understandable that healthcare professionals feel rushed and distracted in the exam room. Keep in mind the importance of communication when it comes to the patient experience. Giving patients just a little more time to express themselves can make a big difference in their satisfaction with the visit.

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THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.
  1. Eliciting the Patient’s Agenda: Secondary Analysis of Patient’s Recorded Clinical Encounters. Journal of General Internal Medicine.
  2. Physician Burnout and Depression: Stress, Anxiety and Anger. Medscape.
  3. What Makes a Good Doctor? 7 Surprisingly Useful Skills for Doctors