If you talk to a lot of physicians out there you would come to the conclusion that the majority of today’s patients are non-compliant assholes that want to dictate their care. NO respect I’ll tell you no respect! No doubt, there are some royal assholes that end up under our care but in my limited experience I have found that the majority of patient’s DO want to do what is best, they are often just misguided and confused. I’m young and obviously don’t have it all figured out but here are some techniques I have learned that you can employ to connect with your patients and help guide them down the right path.
Make the patient feel involved
Regardless of all the warm and fuzzy shit out their I do NOT feel the patient should be the one dictating their care. There is a reason we went to medical school and completed a residency and I like to think that most physicians (although some of them make me wonder) know more than whatever the patient just read on Wikipedia.
It’s still true that 99% of the time the plan of care is dictated by the physician with minimal “interference” from the patient. What has changed is that it is of the utmost importance to make the patient feel involved in the decision-making process.
Generally you will walk into that room with an agenda and these days it is your job to sell it. You can’t just lord over them like some mythical god in a long white coat. You need to not only explain what it is you want to do but why you are going to do it so that at the end of the conversation the patient comes to the conclusion that what you are offering is exactly what they need.
Realize this isn’t just any other day
I’ve been working in a trauma intensive care unit for the last several months. What do I see? A lot of head injuries. The general management plan is pretty much the same for all of them. It can be a bit… dare I say it… boring. However, it is NOT boring for the patient and their families.
Remind yourself that their life will be forever different from that day forward! When you have long forgotten that patient they will still be struggling in rehab to regain the function they once had. Always let the patient and their family know that you can appreciate what a traumatic experience this is for them and that you will help them through it. Putting yourself in their shoes for just a moment can make you much more empathetic when they ask the same question for the 20th time.
Admit when you don’t know something
Simply put: don’t make shit up. It’s easy to fall into the trap of feeling like you always have to answer the patient’s questions right then and right there. If you don’t know the answer to the question be straight forward and tell them so. If it is something with a discrete answer then tell them you will figure it out and get back to them. If it can’t be, tell them that only time will tell. Being honest upfront is a hell of a lot easier than giving the patient some bullshit made up answer then having to explain yourself to them when they call your bluff.
Let them know you are available
The worst thing you can do is let your patient feel abandoned. Don’t get me wrong, there are some patients that I wish I could abandon. I guess dealing with difficult patients is why us residents earn the big bucks ($12/hr wooo!). I always end the conversation by telling the patient that either myself or one of my co-residents are available 24 hours a day and if they need anything the nurse knows how to get a hold of us.Very few patients will abuse this privilege and the ones that do usually are effectively screened by the nursing staff. I get the impression that most patient’s really appreciate knowing that “the doctor” is available and that it quells a lot of anxiety. Try it!
Why is all this important? I’d like to think we all want our patients to have an enjoyable, satisfactory experience. Right? For the cold-hearted cynics out there evidence has proven that patients who feel involved in their care don’t sue. I think that is something we can ALL get behind!