Almost 30 years ago a young woman made an appointment to see me. I had just started my internal medicine practice and almost all the patients who saw me were new to me. I assumed she was establishing care with me. Her first words to me were “Hello Dr. Paauw, I would like to interview you to see if you will be a good fit as my doctor.” We talked for the 40-minute appointment time. I asked her about her health, her life, and what she wanted out of both. We shared with each other that we both were parents of young children. When the appointment was over, she said she would really like for me to be her doctor. She told me that the main thing she appreciated about me was that I listened, and that her previous physician never sat down at her appointments and often had his hand on the door handle for much of the visit. Physicians and patients both agree that compassionate care is essential for good patient care, yet about half of patients and 60% of doctors believe it is lacking in our medical system.1
Remember the golden first minutes
I often start by asking the patient to give me an update on how they are doing. This lets me know what is important to them. I do not touch the computer until after this initial check-in.
Use the computer as a bond to strengthen your patient relationship
Many studies have shown patients find the computer gets between the doctor and patient. It is especially problematic if it breaks eye contact with the patient. People are less likely to share scary, sensitive, or embarrassing information if someone is looking at a computer and typing. As you look up tests, radiology reports, or consultant notes, let the patient in on what you are doing. Explain why you are searching in the record, and if it helps make an important point, show your findings to the patient. Offer to print out results, so they have something to carry with them.
Explain what you are looking for and what you find on the physical exam
Being a patient is scary. We all want reassurance that our fears are not true. When you find normal findings on exam, share those with the patient. Hearing “your heart sounds good, your pulses are strong” really helps patients. Explaining what we are doing when we examine is also helpful. Explain why you are feeling for lymph nodes in the neck, why we percuss the abdomen. Patients are often fascinated by getting a window into how we are thinking. I usually have medical students with me, which offers another avenue to explaining the how and why behind the exam. In asking and explaining to students, the patient is also taught why we do what we do.