Walk the Talk: the Patient Encounter

I am fascinated by how we physicians communicate (or not) with each other and with our patients.  As a medical student and resident NO ONE ever thought about how physicians communicated with patients.  We were always so focused on nailing the disease process and treatment that the patient was nearly ignored.  I don’t think I had a single attending that excelled in talking and listening to patients.  I have tried to self educate (isn’t that what most of medicine is?) and found a thoughtful curriculum for residents on line, from the University of Washington.  I will reproduce the salient points here:

  1. Have an opening introduction: “Hi, Mrs. Marlboro, I’m Dr. Pookie.”  (Hand shake, sit down, look at patient.)
  2. Allow the patient to complete their opening statement.
  3. Attempt to get the patients full agenda: “Mrs. Marlboro, what is the most important thing we need to work on today?” At this point, prioritizing the patients concerns is key.
  4. Set the ground rules: “Mrs. Marlboro, it sounds like stopping smoking is what we should focus on today.  Is that right?”
  5. Gather information, with a  mixture of open and closed ended questions.  Summarize and clarify with out interrupting.
  6. Actively listen, using non verbal cues as well as verbal cues.  (“Uh huh, ah…”)
  7. Explore their beliefs about the illness.  (Yes it’s hard to keep your mouth shut when a patient insists that smoking isn’t bad “because, Doc, I know you’ve heard it before, but I don’t inhale.”  Just heard this from a diabetic as he went on his way to the cardiac cath lab…  But try!)
  8. Acknowledge the patients feelings/values.  (“Yes, quitting smoking is really hard, even our President Elect thinks so.”)
  9. Share information in terms that patients understand.  (Save the free radical talk, two gene promotor theory of cancer for some one who cares.)
  10. Encourage questions: “what questions or concerns do you have?”
  11. Reach agreement on the treatment plan, actively encouraging patients to participate in the plan. 
  12.  IMPORTANT: TRY TO GAUGE THE PATIENTS WILLINGNESS  AND ABILITY ENGAGE IN THE TREATMENT PLAN!  The best plan in the world is worthless if the patient can’t/won’t follow it!
  13. Provide resources (hand outs, referrals etc.)
  14. Realize you can NOT cover every item at every visit. 
  15. Close the encounter by summarizing the treatment plan and setting up the follow up plan.

The patient encounter needs to be a balance between “patient centered skills” and “agenda setting skills.”  Interestingly, when a patient is dissatisfied, they underestimate by 8% how much time the physician spent with them, while if they are satisfied, they overestimate the time the physician spent with them by 20%!

Please see link from Society of General Internal Medicine below.   First author is Matthew F. Hollon, M.D., M.P.H., from the University of Washington. 

http://sgim.org/userfiles/file/AMHandouts/AM08/WC01%20Matthew%20Hollon.pdf

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5 Responses

  1. Don’t they teach this sort of stuff in medical school?

  2. Interesting post. I am headed (hopefully!) towards vet school, but it seems that vets have similar issues when communicating with owners.

    • Actually, the vets we take our dog to are great! They spend a lot of time with us, and we talk about the differences between humans and dogs. (For instance, dogs get c. diff fairly easily. I guess there is no medicare never ever rule for dogs!) Our dog seems to be accident prone, so we have gotten to know the vets at the local pet hospital pretty well.

  3. There is distinct difference between a Doctor for humans and a doctor for animals.

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