Communication is at the core of the patient/provider relationship. While both verbal and non-verbal communication come into play during every encounter, it is often the subtle things that make the biggest impact.
I was shadow/coaching a hospitalist a few weeks ago. He and I had had a great conversation about how he wanted to come across to patients. I could tell from our discussion that, not only was he an incredibly intelligent man, he was also very compassionate. Although his patient satisfaction scores were not bad, they didn’t reflect his commitment to his patients. His scores were just average yet I could see the potential for a 5-star rock star.
From the very first patient encounter I noticed his tendency to talk very fast and fire questions one right after another. I could sense the patient and her husband tensing up during the encounter and falling into the clipped, rapid-fire responses that mimicked the doctor’s style. At the end of his litany of questions he asked, “Do you have any questions?” while moving toward the door.
Set The Tone for Dialog
Once out of the room, I asked how he thought it went. He felt it went okay and added, “They didn’t say much. I would think they’d have questions.” He was in such a habit of talking fast and firing off a list of questions that he hadn’t realized he was setting the tone for the dialog.
Communication is like a dance. When someone takes the lead, others follow. Rapid speech, I told the doctor, implies that you are in a hurry. This, coupled with a series of closed-ended questions for the patient gave the impression that the doctor was in a hurry and only wanted direct responses to his questions.
In this situation, we had the opportunity to practice slowing down his speech and using open-ended questions. He was amazed to witness how his patients responded to his small changes.
And incidentally, he didn’t spend any more time in rooms where he spoke more slowly and used open-ended questions.