Patient visits are the heart and soul of family medicine. Doctors often choose this particular specialty because they like the appeal of dealing with entire family units. They get to see young couples having babies; they get to see those babies grow up, get married, and start their own families.
The interesting thing about office visits is that they can make or break a doctor’s relationship with a patient. Moreover, the impression a patient has when leaving the office has a significant impact on that relationship. Doctors ideally want patients to leave feeling good about the visit. If they do, their relationship is strengthened.
Given the hectic nature of family medicine jobs, it is not always easy to create the ideal patient experience. Sometimes it is downright hard work. Nonetheless, here are five ways family medicine doctors can make the most of each and every patient visit:
1. Offer Honest Answers to Questions
Today’s patient understands that he or she is his/her own best health advocate. If the patient is smart, he or she comes to the office with plenty of questions. The doctor can make the most of that visit by offering honest answers to every question asked. This may be easier said than done.
Doctors never want to give the impression that they do not know something. So rather than admitting to their own ignorance, they may answer a patient’s question in an ambiguous, noncommittal way. Sometimes they don’t give answers at all; they find a way to change the topic. That’s not the right way to go. Honest answers, even if it is to say you don’t know, is the best strategy.
2. Solicit Patient Repetition
The back-and-forth of questions and answers can make a straightforward visit pretty detailed. For this reason, it’s always a good idea to solicit patient repetition. In other words, ask your patients to repeat back to you important information they need to understand. This strategy is especially important for locum tenens physicians who may very well be seeing a patient for the last time.
3. Show Respect for Patient Research
The internet has become a well-used tool for patients trying to figure out what’s going on. Show respect for the research your patients do. While it is true that everything they read online cannot necessarily be trusted, it is also true that there is a lot of helpful and accurate information out there. A patient may stumble across something that legitimately pertains to his/her situation, something you may not have thought of otherwise.
4. Play Close Attention to Patient Feelings
Hand-in-hand with research is what patients are actually feeling. Patient feelings are important whether they are physical or emotional. After all, only they really know how they feel at any given moment in time. Pay attention to every word they say and don’t discount something just because you do not understand it. If you’re having trouble relating to what the patient is expressing, ask him or her to try and explain it in another way.
5. Help Patients Think Things Through
There is a proven teaching technique common in the trades. Rather than just telling someone how to do something and then demonstrating it for them, teachers help their students work through individual tasks step-by-step. This method engages students and helps them figure out answers to their own questions.
This same approach is useful in medicine. Rather than just giving a patient a set of instructions, walk them through what you are trying to accomplish in such a way as to lead them to reach the right conclusion. This makes the patient an active participant in his/her own care.