Communicating with Patients as an Introvert

group of professional medical team closeup

Communication with Patients as an Introvert

Physicians and nurses come in all personality types. Some are out going, funny, charming and gregarious. Others are quieter and more measured in communicating with their patients. There is the type that likes to offer hugs and are very comfortable patting hands and putting a hand on the shoulder, but that doesn’t mean the ones who don’t do that can’t connect effectively with their patients.

Physicians and nurses should be genuine in what ever their communication style is. Their genuineness will come through to their patients.

Some of the most important things to keep in mind and demonstrate with patients are:

Empathy. Empathy allows us to connect to the feelings of the patient and understand what they are going through. It helps patients feel like they matter and are respected and valued. We all have the ability to show empathy toward others. It’s the mirror neurons firing in our brains that allow us to connect on an emotional level.

Body Language. Non verbal communication is powerful. It has been said that 50 to 80 per cent of what we are communicating comes from our body language. So, how you position yourself when involved with the patient speaks volumes.
Upon entering the patients exam room offer a handshake, make good eye contact and sit down. When sitting you are perceived to spend more time with the patient than if standing. And it puts you at their level. It also sends the message that you have time to listen to them.

Balance. When looking at the computer screen and charting make sure you balance looking at the screen with making good eye contact with the patient. A good trick is to look at the patient when asking a question and return to the computer to enter the data.

Listening. Be a good listener. Allow patients to talk without interruption before responding. Pausing before responding lets the patient know you are processing what they have said. It also allows you to formulate your response more effectively.
Lean in when listening and acknowledge what is being said by nodding. Validate verbally what is being said with phrases like; “I understand what you are saying” or paraphrasing back to the patient what has been said.

A quiet, steady approach can achieve a high level of connection too. And do keep in mind that too much touching and patting may be perceived as patronizing. Some of your patients will be the quiet steady type too, and don’t feel the need for hugging and patting. Another important reason to being attentive to each patients needs.

Essential Professional Dress in Healthcare

Hospital Staff Standing Outside A Hospital
Essential Professional Dress in Healthcare
While visiting a family member in the hospital recently, I noticed the unkempt attire of one of the lab people coming in to draw blood. As she knelt down to better reach my family member’s arm I noticed her scrub pants were frayed and dirty from her walking on them. Shortly after I made note of this, one of her co-workers came in the room to see how she was doing and noted the same thing. However, she said something out loud about the fact that her scrub pants were too long and should be shortened so they weren’t dragging on the ground. The person with the dirty scrubs said, “she couldn’t be bothered with that, after all they are only work pants.” My immediate thought was, if she can’t be bothered with being well groomed what else can’t she be bothered with.”

A visible mark of distinction for your organization can be what your employees wear. If they are poorly dressed or poorly groomed the impression the public gets of your organization can be a negative one. Or like me, they wonder what else isn’t be attended too.

What is the appropriate dress for the staff and physicians in offices and hospitals today?

This question is one that causes confusion in many work places, not just the medical arena. Staying current and up with the times in dress is important. The days of everyone being in white and nursing caps seems to be a thing of the past. However, problems can arise if guidelines are not specific. Dress codes left to individual interpretation can leave room for big surprises.

Uniforms of some sort give an air of professionalism and a sense of solidarity. Different departments often adopt a certain color unique to them and easily identifiable. For instance, pediatric situations may want to gear their uniforms to the children so they do not seem threatening. In certain departments, lab coats over street clothes offer protection and look professional. Scrubs are essential in many areas and reduce concern for getting clothes soiled. Shirts or coats with hospital and group logos offer another good choice.

One of the most important ideas of uniforms is to let the public know who you are, that you are at work, not at play, that you are not some stranger off the street who comes into a patient room in the middle of the night. In short, you should look like what you do and who you are.
If anyone has to question what you do or if you are working, it may be time to evaluate what you are wearing.
The need to move unencumbered in many situations presents some unique challenges. Here are some basic tips for dressing today:

Establish well defined dress codes and enforce them.
Be clean and well groomed. Shorter fingernails are more professional and more hygienic. Save nail art and dramatic nail color for social situations.
Hair kept short or up is suitable and more professional when caring for patients. Keep make-up subtle.
Fragrances should be kept to a minimum and if you smoke consider how you smell leaning over a sick patient.
Well fitting clothes are a benefit to everyone.
Clothes should be clean, well maintained and pressed.
Invest in, and use a full length mirror before leaving the house.
Jackets and blazers add an air of authority and professionalism to men and women.
Identification badges should be visible at all times (first names only may be necessary for security reasons). Enforce identification with an introduction.
Save athletic shoes for athletics. Wear clean, polished, professional shoes. No sandals.
Jewelry kept simple and to a minimum presents a more professional image.
Gum chewing is a solitary activity and should not be done in public.

Individuals in administrative positions or positions that do not require a uniform, including physicians, should use care to look professional and well groomed. It is just as important as those requiring a uniform.

It has been said, that the way we are dressed can influence the way we work and how we are perceived. When the public looks at you and views your work environment, what do they see?

Remember, what Mark Twain said…

“Clothes make the man, naked people have little or no influence in the society.”

What Not To Say When Elderly Loved One Dies

Cemetery Gravestones

What Not To Say When Elderly Loved Ones Die

My father died quietly at home, on June 1st, 2015, two months shy of turning 98 years old. He had had a good quality, long life up until the very end. And I knew how fortunate we were to have had him in our lives for that long of a time and to have him so well and vital. That isn’t always the way lives play out when one is close to being 100 years of age. He had all of his faculties, was mobile, in his own home, enjoyed his children, grand children and great grand children and even played cards with my mom before they went to bed the night before he died. The next day he closed his eyes and died.

After his death I was quite surprised at some of things people said to me in offering their sympathy. Some people just said they were sorry for my loss, but many said things that were disturbing to me, especially in reference to my dad’s age and the fact that he died quietly at home.

I don’t think anyone said things to intentionally hurt my feelings, I think many people just don’t know what to say. But, there was a lot of, “wow, what a way to go” and “we all should be so lucky to go that way.” And it started to dawn on me that things were said that probably wouldn’t have been said in reference to a younger person dying. While, young people dying can be an unexpected and untimely loss, losing an older loved one in your life doesn’t diminish the fact that there is now a hole in your life.
Many of the comments seemed to over look the fact that I had lost my dad and because of his age and circumstances of his death made me almost feel like I didn’t have any cause to be sad.

When we lose a loved one, especially a parent, regardless of there age and circumstances of their death, we lose a part of ourselves and we become the oldest generation in the family. That in itself can give you pause. We also lose the a person we used to go to with questions, ask advice, get details on family history and so much more. Once they are gone, it’s final, there is no going back for another conversation.

So, what should you say to someone who loses an elderly loved one? How about, “I am so sorry for your loss, I am sure you will miss them.” That statement honors the loss and grief that we all experience in losing a loved one regardless, of their age.

I am reminded of something my late father-in-law said when his 103 year old mother died when someone asked him how it felt to lose his mother who had lived so long. He said, “it’s the end of an era for this family”, with a tear in his eye. He too would miss her.

Humor Etiquette

Humor Etiquette

Let’s talk humor etiquette.What is your style of humor? Are you one of those people who uses everyone else’s short comings (or perceived short comings) as the butt of your jokes?

The current political climate has caused a lot of bad humor in every direction. The charity dinner on Thursday evening with Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump in attendance wasn’t their best effort at making jokes. In fact, I think it would be hard to describe some of the remarks that both candidates threw out as humor. It was more like insults. A cheap version of humor, in my opinion.

What makes a good comic or humorist? That is very subjective. What one person finds funny might not strike another person as being funny at all. Think back to some of the people who have made you laugh the hardest over the years. For me, it would be the masters of self deprecating humor.

Humor is also about timing. And I believe it’s an art. Some people can deliver a line and have the whole room in stitches, but that line delivered by someone else may bomb.

If you are the person who uses everyone else as the butt of your jokes, you may find people running in the other direction when they see you. That kind of humor can be very hurtful. Humor should make other people laugh and feel good…not feel like they are getting “roasted.”

Medical Manners…the Power of Nice

Female medicine doctor reassuring her patient. Hands close-up. Healthcare and medical concept.

Medical Manners…the Power of Nice

Patients forming an opinion of your practice are doing so in a matter of seconds. And some of the latest research on first impressions, suggest that it may even be within the blink of an eye. Regardless of the length of time, first impressions are powerful and very difficult to reverse. So, if a patient has formed a bad opinion of you and your staff, during the first point of contact, you have your work cut out for you in changing that negative opinion.

Patients usually assume that you and your staff know how to do your jobs, but they also need to know you care about them, while doing your job. Your patient’s perception of their care is your reality. If you don’t have a good sense of what your practice is communicating it may be time to stand back and view things from the patient’s point of view.

Since many practices today are large and run by CEO’s and practice managers there is a temptation to turn everything over to them in the running of your office. However, checking out in that regard can create some problems and leave the physician without a good understanding of what’s going on. It’s the physician’s name on the door, not the managers. Creating a positive corporate environment starts at the top and that means with the physician.

If you want your practice to make a good impression on your patients try some the following tips:

Develop a well defined mission statement and make it a priority in delivering care. Be sure that a patient-centric philosophy carries through in everything you and your staff members do. In order to develop that philosophy you need to ask the patients what matters to them. After all, no one would have a job, including the physician, if it weren’t for the patients.

Train new and existing staff in the courtesies you want them to observe. Never assume that staff members know what that means. Small kindnesses make powerful impressions, but so do small rudenesses. That small rudeness from a staff member may be enough to cause a patient to leave your practice. Studies show patients will even forgive a bad outcome, if they feel you care about them and are listening. So, patient perceived physician empathy, communication and relationships count for a lot.

Respect and trust your staff. Approaching your staff with intimidation and negativity creates a toxic environment and one that your patients will surely pick up on. Be attentive to how often staff members leave your employment. If you have a revolving door of people coming and going frequently, you have a problem. Replacing staff members regularly is also, very costly. In a study done by the Society of Human Resource Management they reported that it can cost a company up to six to nine months of an employees salary to replace them.

Many staff members today, complain that they don’t think their physicians even know everyone’s name who works for them…a sad commentary. If you bumped into some of your staff in the grocery store could you greet them by name? Interact with your staff and be sure to thank them regularly for what they do for you. And the thank you needs to come from the physicians…don’t staff that out. The staff can be some of your best P.R. agents.

Have a well defined dress code. Your patients are paying attention to how people look in your office. Everyone in the same uniform can make a great impression and create a sense of solidarity within the staff. Insist on good grooming from top to bottom. Tidy hair, clean shoes and pressed scrubs are a must. And gum chewing? As tempted as some might be, it is a solitary activity and should not be done in public.

Avoid the “cattle call” when calling patients back to an exam room. Encourage staff members to walk out into the waiting area to call patients back instead of standing at the door shouting their name. When patients check in, consider making a notation on a sticky note that can be put on the chart to identify the patients waiting. In doing that the person rooming patients can walk right up to them to take them back. (For instance, noting the color of an article of clothing.)

Do keep patients apprised of waiting time and apologize if you’ve kept them waiting. That apology let’s them know you value and respect their time too. Patients should be checked on every 15 minutes while waiting in the exam rooms and kept informed of the physician’s timing.

Be professional in greeting your patients. Address them formally until invited to do otherwise. Age and rank have their privileges. Also, avoid using patronizing terms such as,”honey” or “dear” when addressing patients…it’s insulting.

Smile and introduce yourself to your patients and make sure staff members do the same, even if you wear name badges. And using please and thank you often and you’re welcome or my pleasure, instead of “no problem” is always in style.

Maintain a pleasant atmosphere in your office, but avoid a party atmosphere. Patients coming in for serious issues need to feel that you are taking them seriously and are ready to do what is needed to address those issues.

Never let your patients hear you or staff complain about work, co-workers or other patients. Be aware of how loud you talk and what can be overheard from out in the hall or other areas where patients may be within ear shot.

Reach out and touch your patients with a warm greeting and handshake before you start your exam and log into your computer. Your patients should never leave your office without someone physically greeting them.

Try making a little small talk at the beginning of the patient’s visit. This helps establish a relationship with your patients and can help relax them if they are nervous.

Displaying a sense of confidence with your patients is important, but be careful that your confidence doesn’t come off as arrogance. Arrogance is off putting and does not endear people to you.

Sit down when speaking with your patients and make good eye contact. If eye contact is a problem while you are working on the computer, look at your patient when asking a question and look at the computer when entering the data. It’s an important balancing act.

Watch your body language while with your patients. If you have one hand on the door knob and one foot out the door before your patients finish talking, you are sending the message that you don’t have time for them. Always, close your conversation by asking if they have any other questions or by letting them know that the nurse will be in to finish up, before you walk out of the room. We call that, “taking your leave.”

Send a thank you note to new patients for choosing your practice and to referring physicians. Those seemingly small courtesies, have a big impact and distinguish you and your practice. Remember, patients and referring physicians have a lot of choices today in such a competitive market.

If you are in a practice with long standing patients and a patient dies, have a system in place to acknowledge the death with a note to the family members. It can come from the physician or one of your staff members. Keep in mind, as a physician, you are often part of some of the most important and intimate events in a person’s life. Some of those events are happy, like when a baby is born, but some of the events are sad, like when a patient dies. Not acknowledging a death can leave the impression that you and your staff don’t care. And it has even caused patients to leave practices.

As you step back and evaluate the pulse of your practice be mindful of some of the small things that can make big differences in how your patients perceive the care you and your staff deliver.

Remember what Maya Angelou said…

I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”