What’s Next? Your Patient Wants to Know

Surprises can be exciting when it comes to birthday gifts, but patients really don’t appreciate surprises. When I interview patients about what is most important to them about their care, being informed is always in the top two. They want to know what’s going on and what they should expect next.

A couple weeks ago I was shadowing in a medical practice. The physician did a wonderful job engaging with the patient and getting to the bottom of her troubling symptoms. At the close of the encounter, however, he didn’t recap the discussion or tell the patient that when he left the exam room, she would be free to get dressed and go.

Later, when I interviewed the patient she told me that she liked the doctor, that she felt he had been thorough, but felt like she was left hanging when he departed the exam room. She said, “I felt like he left and I had no idea what was going on. Should I go? Was I finished? Would he be back? What is next?

Another patient on an inpatient unit talked about how irritating it was for her to be picked up for a test that she knew nothing about. She was settling in for a nap when the transporter arrived to take her to imaging for a CT scan.

Keep Patients Informed

Keep patients informed and remember, how you close out an encounter is as important as making a positive first impression. By taking the time to recap, you are reviewing important points and clarifying next steps. Unfortunately, busy clinicians are mentally moving on to the next task (documenting the visit) or even the next patient. In all clinical settings, patients are put at ease when caregivers tell them what they can expect next. For nurses rounding on inpatient units it can be as simple as, “You can expect me back in about an hour.” Or, “I’ll be back in about 15 minutes to see how that pain medication is working.”
Keep the surprises out of the patient experience.


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