It is observed that on a normal day in the office, the average physician misses an ample of opportunities to engage with their patients. The reason behind this being their busy schedules. Research indicates that this happens because physicians do not have the proper patient-centered communication skills and awareness.
On a typical visit, patients provide their physicians with a number of verbal and non-verbal cues, indicating their thoughts and feelings. This is done to pose a question or just to show concern. The value of the cue is directly dependent on the physician understanding it.
Let’s break down a typical day in the office to better analyze the opportunities involved. On an average, a physician receives 3-4 Patient complaints, 2-3 requests and there are around 4-5 patient expectations. Add them together and we have 9-12 opportunities, per visit. This is a substantial amount. Hence, it is of utmost importance that attention needs to be paid to those cues.
The cues may be apparent; like a patient complaining of depression, but more often, those cues are not clearly stated and the doctor needs to observe the patient’s body language, facial expressions, etc. to get the hint. Regardless of how a patient expresses them, these cues are opportunities to engage the patient.
Let us take an example to understand this better. Following is a brief conversation about the patient’s knee, and there are 4 cues that the patient expressed verbally.
Doctor: So, how is your exercise regimen since your last visit?
Patient: I’ve haven’t been feeling so great ever since I slipped on the ice and my knee hasn’t been as cooperative. I’ve been missing the exercise.
Doctor: How about the diet? Are you still sticking to it?
Patient: Yes, but…
Doctor: Well, now that the weather is warmer, you could get back to the jogging that we talked about before.
Patient: How about doing an MRI of the knee to check if I have torn something. A similar thing happened to my friend and she got an MRI. Turns out, she had torn her cartilage.
Doctor: If your knee continues to bother you after a month, come and see me.
The 4 cues actually represent 5 opportunities for the doctor. Those opportunities could be utilized to:
1. Demonstrate that the doctor was paying attention and listening to the patient.
2. Show comprehension of the patient’s expectations
3. Relate and empathize with the patient.
4. Explain why MRI isn’t a necessary procedure at this point of time.
5. To integrate a diagnosis and a treatment plan in a way that the patient can buy into it.
The reason for a potential “fall-out” due to the response of the doctor to those cues would be:
· Feeling of mistrust
· Feeling that the concerns were dismissed easily
· Feeling that the whole visit was a waste of time
· Problem not resolved
Long-term potential outcomes might include:
· Patient acting against the doctor which could cause the problem to worsen.
· Patient doesn’t share potentially relevant health information in future visits.
· Patient decides to visit the ER instead of seeing the physician
Let’s estimate that the average patient visit generates around 10 such cues, which is a conservative number. If the physician identifies and addresses 50% of those cues, it would leave 5 missed opportunities per visit. This analysis would add up to a 110 missed opportunities on a typical business day. Which makes 440 missed opportunities a week and a staggering 22,880 opportunities a year for just one physician.
Think about the impact the physicians in your provider network could make if they were made aware about some basic communication skills which would enable them to be mindful of, acknowledge and properly respond to these cues in a way that the patient would appreciate. Investing in improving these skills would no doubt have a significant impact.