5 Helpful Tips for Understanding Patients and their Issues Better
Each time a patient walks into your office, you are presented with a unique opportunity to make use of your skills as a provider. While all providers have an approach that works for them and their practice, there is typically room for improvement, specifically regarding how the provider makes use of the information offered by each patient. Some patients offer a myriad of documents from previous providers, while others seem to be amusing themselves by your detective skills. Wouldn’t it be nice to have the best information in the most concise manner as possible?
How good are your questions?
This may seem a rather odd question, but in all truthfulness, are you good at asking good questions? We may have been taught that no question is a bad question in school, however, when it comes to patient care, the questions are far more delicate – and can allude to all manner of responses. If you want a straight answer, ask close-ended questions, i.e. is your leg in pain? Or, do you take your medication every day at the same time each day? Those can be helpful questions, when gathering “clear” information. However, open-ended questions will elicit much more information, and may provide excellent pieces of information that leads to higher quality of care. Asking “how are you handling your sister’s passing?” can elicit good information, but asking “what has life been like for you the past three months?” could elicit much more information that doesn’t relate to her sister’s passing.
How well do you know your patient?
While you may have seen Mrs. Jones for the past 12 years, did you know that her grandson just completed his first year in a graduate program? Or that her sister recently passed away? While this information may appear to be unnecessary for your diagnosis of her chest cold, it may inform you of a perspective on her life; one that allows you to ask more personal questions. People sometimes come in for one seemingly benign complaint, and if you are willing to ask questions that lend themselves to showing genuine concern, they may share a “strange pain” in their abdomen that wasn’t necessarily alarming them, but for you as the provider, is reason for further investigation. Sometimes having someone on staff who has completed a gerontology degree program would be a good idea in order to better understand them.
How well do you listen?
How many times have you had a patient complain that you weren’t listening or don’t care what they are saying? Perhaps not often (if you’re lucky), but should a provider be reasonably competent at listening? This is not about decibels, it’s about caring enough that whatever the patient is saying, has meaning and purpose to you in that moment. Is the adolescent boy talking about his body changing in strange ways, or is he offering a glimpse into his psyche that reveals he is perhaps being bullied at school or even home? Sometimes, it is more important what a patient doesn’t say than all the things they seemingly present as their primary complaint.
How good are you at asking for help?
How many times have you seen the same patient over and over for several years, and managed a concern without ever discussing it with a colleague or in rounds? While you may be extremely competent in your area of practice, there are always other approaches to handling the patient’s complaint(s). Discussing cases with colleagues opens up a variety of angles with which to come at the problem, as well as offers your colleagues information they perhaps didn’t have prior; iron sharpens iron. If you know your patient needs something you cannot provide, are you willing to reach out for help?
How well do you communicate with Patients outside of the treatment room?
No, I’m not referring to your bedside manner, but rather how you gather information and provide information to patients and other providers when the patient is not on your schedule. Do patients have a way to e-mail you with the odd side-effect from a new drug? Are you willing and able to provide a reasonably quick answer to their concerns? Is your staff? If you don’t already, consider a platform from which patients can communicate concerns and a competent person respond. It will build a rapport with patients and it allows you access to more information you may not otherwise have had.
Patients come to their providers with trust; some more than others. They trust their provider to offer them answers and solutions for their presenting problems as well as for their hidden problems. If we can learn to ask the right questions, listen well and have enough insight to our strengths and weaknesses, there is a good chance our treatment will exceed even our own expectations. I challenge you each to strive for excellence in the care you provide to your patients. We are, indeed, patients ourselves.
If you would like to learn more about Pastoral Care of the patient, then please review our Pastoral Thanatology Certification Program and learn how you can better take care of your patients whether dying or just aging from a better pastoral viewpoint