Even as a doctor I still feel intimidated in a strange hospital, like a traveller lost in a foreign land. So imagine how small our patients feel when we strip off their clothes and make them wait hours to see us. We put scared patients in bewildering situations and ask them to make life-and-death decisions.
I had occasion to observe a wonderful physician who instead treated his patients like honoured guests. He had an amazing gift for putting people at ease and giving them confidence. I noticed there were ten things he did without fail:
1. He related to his patients as fellow human beings – smiling, paying attention and always taking care to make some connection to the ’person’ rather than the ‘patient’.
2. He took care with introductions and acknowledged the other people with the patient.
3. He didn’t just give his name and title but made sure the patient understood his role and the purpose of the consultation.
4. He never stood over patients. He got down to their level. If he sat on the patient’s bed he always first sought the patient’s consent.
5. He asked every patient how they felt and empathised with their response. He’d ask if patients had had any sleep last night, knowing that anxiety keeps people awake.
6. He used gentle humour to make patients feel more comfortable. To a nervous patient, he’d say with a warm smile, “Join the club! You’re a human being like everyone else! It’s natural to feel anxious”.
7. Before he began his clinical questions, he’d invariably say, “Before I start, it would be really helpful for me to know what’s at the front of your mind.”
8. He included the patient in every process. So, going through old records in front of the patient, he’d give a running commentary explaining what he found.
9. He sought permission for every little thing he did, like taking the blood pressure.
10. When patients were fearful of what lay ahead, he said. “Let’s just take this journey one step at a time. At each step I’m going to make sure you are OK before we take the next step”. He put the patient in charge.
This humble doctor’s practice was extraordinarily efficient – he reached the heart of the matter in no time at all. His patients felt honoured, respected and loved.
Ten simple rules to follow.
Dr Robin Youngson
Image “Doctor conducts an exam” by World Bank Images