Original Publish Date: August 9, 2022
In a world where harshness is the prevailing attitude and genuine care for people too often is an afterthought, patients seek a kinder, better experience at the doctor’s office.
I recently fired a concierge physician who presented himself as a kind, caring, integrative physician. But what I encountered was a messy, jeans-wearing man who was blunt, cold and emotionally crippled. He had an inability to listen and seemed to be more interested in his new telemedicine app venture.
So much for “bedside manner.” The business of doctors is supposed to be the care of humans. Remember the Hippocratic Oath? According to the National Library of Medicine and the National Institutes of Health, “The Hippocratic Oath (Ορκος) is perhaps the most widely known of Greek medical texts. It requires a new physician to swear upon a number of healing gods that he will uphold a number of professional ethical standards."
I take issue with the male-centric language and focus; however, professional ethical standards seem to be called for just about now. Especially in terms of how doctors and other medical professionals talk to patients. Stop talking down to them. Try to listen to them and, as much as possible, lift them up.
In short, give your professional voice more of a personal touch.
I’ve worked as an SP – standardized patient – for students at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore and for the School of Medicine at UCI – University of California, Irvine. As a professional actor, I assumed the role of a patient with an illness to teach the medical students both bedside manner and how to communicate with patients. The SP program is invaluable and should be implemented by all medical schools. But for now, here are my suggestions for medical practitioners to improve their communication skills with their patients and put their patients more at ease.
Hire front-desk people who love people
The first thing I hear when I call a doctor’s office should not be an “I'm-so-busy,” unfriendly voice giving me rules and regulations or the fact that you are not seeing any new patients. Or that I must have a referral. Or that your waiting list is six months long.
This type of language and dogma speaks to a medical system, an HMO, or a PPO – not a human being who is seeking the care of a qualified, caring doctor when we have a shortage of qualified, caring doctors. A practice that talks at you in these ways comes across as arrogant. We know you're busy, but guess what, so are we. We know that COVID has greatly affected your office; it has greatly affected our lives, too. Some people visit holistic doctors such as a chiropractor or acupuncturist primarily and may not have a "regular" doctor who can refer them. Why not offer us an opportunity to leave a message to have a real conversation with a member of your team?
Have the conversation recorded
One of the best techniques I experienced at a local doctor's office was that our conversation was recorded and transcribed by a nurse elsewhere in the office. This works beautifully with folks who have hearing challenges, cognitive challenges, or are just too scared to really hear what you are saying.
Having a written record post-visit can clear up any misunderstandings and give the patient a chance to go over protocols, prescriptions and have time to ask questions. Consider building this into your practice because it will lead directly to a well-informed, engaged, and happy patient who will refer others to your practice. You might also suggest to your patients that they record the conversation. Most patients would really appreciate it because it strengthens trust.
Listen and have compassion
Patients often live in a space of fear, based on not feeling well and being worried that their condition might be serious. But too many medical practitioners act clinical and are so emotionally detached that it appears they have little to no compassion for the patient. They don’t connect with the patient, who needs emotional support as well as expert medical advice.
Actively listen when talking with the patient. Most people reveal a lot about themselves and ask for what they want if they feel heard and cared for. Talk to us as partners (we're in this together), not with a tone that may signal superiority. Establish an immediate connection to us with a warm introduction, deeply listen without judgment, and do your best to give us the time we need.
Don't be upset when folks have done research (right or wrong) online – it's what we do. Illness and pain cause most of us to be fearful. We go online seeking knowledge and comfort and we want to talk over these things with a skilled and caring doctor. Your willingness to be vulnerable with us helps both of us both emotionally and spiritually.
Don’t generalize based on age
Many doctors are guilty of this. They’ll suggest certain medical things are happening because you’re over 50. Please don’t do that. A good number of older people are sensitive about their age, and when they work out and take good care of themselves, they don’t want to be lumped in with those who are sedentary and obese, or afflicted by certain diseases that might have been prevented had they exercised and eaten right.
I realize that you as medical practitioners might have been taught these age-focused things in medical school or learned from our cultural norms here in the United States that don't value elders, but statements like these do not bring us comfort or offer power over our life. And don’t talk down to the younger generations either, assuming they have limited life experiences. No matter the patient’s age, part of properly respecting them is not stereotyping them medically, educationally and socially.
A kinder, better experience at the doctor’s office starts and ends with treating patients as equals, as people, and it’s really as simple as that. Don’t be too busy or too educated to be real, welcoming and even comforting to your patients.
Dr. Miluna Fausch (www.MilunaFausch.com) is an intuitive sound healer and the author of Uplevel Your Communication: Evolve Your Presence and Speech to Change Everything. She created her proprietary Vocal Archetypes℠ to train conscientious C-suite executives and thought leaders in confident, high-frequency speaking, voice and presence. Dr. Fausch has a Ph.D. in holistic psychology, is certified as a holistic health counselor practitioner and as a Miracle-Minded Coach by Marianne Williamson. She has extensive training in voice, acting, and energy healing.