Make sure that we cover what they are afraid of, not just what their symptom is
Patients come in not just to get symptom relief but to rest their mind from their fears of what it could be. I find it helpful to ask the patient what they think is the cause of the problem, or if they are worried about any specific diagnosis. With certain symptoms this is particularly important (for example, headaches, fatigue, or abdominal pain).
None of these suggestions are easy to do in busy, time-pressured clinic visits. I have found though that when patients feel cared about, listened to and can have their fears addressed they value our advice more, and less time is needed to negotiate the plan, as it has been developed together.
Dr. Paauw is professor of medicine in the division of general internal medicine at the University of Washington, Seattle, and serves as third-year medical student clerkship director at the University of Washington. Contact Dr. Paauw at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Lown BA et al. Health Aff (Millwood). 2011 Sep;30(9):1772-8.