Clinical Presentation Skills: Communication with your Patients
By: Faith A. Schick, DPM
The ability to communicate with your patients is integral to successful outcomes. This is an important practice skill that should be developed and mastered prior to graduating residency.
As a resident, I recall spending time shadowing multiple physicians. After a period of time, I was able to know what the physician was going to say before the words came out of his/her mouth. This wasn’t because I was getting smarter at understanding how I was supposed to treat a specific condition, but because I became familiar with the conversation the attending was going to have with the patient. As time went by, and after many experiences, I was able to synthesize different versions of what I was hearing, and have specific treatment plans I would share with my patients when the time came.
Developing this organized thought process helped to ease the transition from resident to attending. When the time came I was ready. I knew how I wanted to treat my patients and what supplies I needed to perform an appropriate physical examination and render care. Being board certified with ABPM and though my experiences I knew I could handle any situation. I was able to walk into the treatment room with confidence and explain to my patients what I thought their condition was, and how we were going to manage it without faltering. I knew what I wanted to say before I said it, similar to the physicians I had observed. This confidence reassured my patients.
Realize that just because what you are saying makes sense to you, it doesn’t necessarily mean that it is going to make sense to your patients. During residency you are surrounded by peers who easily communicate using medical terminology. Once in practice this changes, and your audience becomes your patient population. Language needs to become more simple; you need to still speak intelligently, but use words that your patient will understand. For example, instead of saying “calcaneus”, explain by saying “heel bone”. While it may make sense to you that a patient should sleep in their CAM boot, you need to very clear with patients giving them instructions. Make sure to ask if your patient has any questions before leaving the room.
Think about the message you are trying to convey. How do you sound? What does your posture look like? Are you making good eye contact? As time has gone by, I have come to appreciate the value this has on my office workflow. I am able to review my chart notes with ease knowing that there is an organized thought process as to how I treated my patient during their last visit, and depending upon their outcome how I plan to proceed with care. My staff is able to anticipate my needs and the needs of my patients. Appointments are scheduled in an organized fashion based upon the diagnosis. With the advent of electronic health records, I have been able to develop templates that facilitate my documentation process. Patients are able to leave the office with organized instructions explaining their diagnosis and plan of care.
This level of organization assures that I do not miss any step in my patient’s treatment. By the time the patient has completed their visit to the office they have an established diagnosis with plan of care, all questions have been answered, necessary studies having been ordered, medical supplies have been dispensed, and a follow up appointment has been made as needed. This limits my liability and the chance that something gets overlooked or forgotten. All too often physicians are multi-tasking throughout the day and a simple distraction can lead to error. Having an organized treatment algorithm keeps things on track to make sure nothing gets missed, and communication with your patients is of utmost importance.