Effective listening skills for doctors

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Effective listening skills for doctors

In general, communication is an integral part of a meaningful and trustworthy relationship, and same is applicable for the doctor-patient relationship as well. According to a recent survey, two out of every three patients are discharged from the hospital without even knowing their diagnosis and current status. In another study, over 60% of cases, patients misunderstood the directions after a visit to their doctor’s office. Therefore, a healthy doctor-patient relationship is demanded so as to enjoy mutual benefits. A better understanding of the issues encountered by the patients can singnificantly improve the diagnostic capability of the doctor. Also, it helps managing the strenuous clinical encounters and thus, reduces the frustration of both the doctor and patient or attendant in situations of emotional outbursts. It has also proved to increase job satisfaction and decrease work-related stress.

According to the Joint Commission, a nonprofit imparts accreditation to the health care organizations, communication failure (rather than a provider’s lack of technical skill) was the root cause of over 70% of serious adverse health outcomes in hospitals.

It is normal to ignore the value of listening to the patients, especially while working in a high pressure medical environment. As for doctors, the listening skill is  crucial to feel and understand the patients pain and emotions. Understanding patients pain and emotions can allow doctors to do their job more effectively. According to Nirmal Joshi, the chief medical officer for Pinnacle Health,"A doctor’s ability to explain, listen and empathize has a profound impact on a patient’s care."

Some of the ideas to help doctors improve listening skills with the patients and medical team are as follows:

  • Stay focused: One of the fundamentals of quality listening is to stay at present. By pivoting on the moment and interaction you are in, letting go of future and past interactions will do a considerable deal to make someone feel listened to. As per the Huffington Post article,  effective-listening is a ‘super power’ that is also used by Bill Clinton. “Paying attention may sound easy enough, but few of us apply our full focus when interacting with others. In our culture of distraction and multi-tasking, where digital devices with actual flesh-and-blood humans for our attention, the ability to completely engage with another person is an unusual trait.”
  • Good eye contact: One of the simplest, most powerful ways to connect is the eye-to-eye contact. Many doctors are so focused on a screen taking notes that they forget to actually look at the patient. When a doctor takes time to look at the patient for at least 5 – 7 seconds at a time, mainly when they are talking, exhibits a full attentiveness and engagement.
  • Turn towards the person, but not too much: Facing your body towards someone is an indication of attention and interest. But, at a specific angle 45°-90°, which is the most appropriate and allows the patient you are talkingto have personal space while also giving them attention.
  • Sense the emotional tone: There is an emotional tone underneath everything a patient says. For some, it may be frustration, or fear and as for others it is a sense of relief that somebody is actually able to support them. Whtever emotion the patient is going through, the doctor should make sure to be aware of it.
  • Pause before responding: After someone has finished speaking, taking 5-10 seconds to pause shows that you are taking interest in what they are saying.This a strong yet underused listening skill.
  • Reword important points: At the end of an interaction, taking a minute to rephrase what someone has said will give a big sign that you have listened to them. If people's words are shared back to them, they feel valued and validated. Try to do this, and see how patients gets more and more engaged.
  • Ask the view about your suggestions to the patients: By drawing the patients more in their own health solutions, and gaining agreement before taking an action, you will show the person that their opinion is very significant.

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