Editor's Note: Welcome to Medical Economics' blog section which features contributions from members of the medical community. These blogs are an opportunity for bloggers to engage with readers about a topic that is top of mind, whether it is practice management, experiences with patients, the industry, medicine in general, or healthcare reform. The opinions expressed here are that of the authors and not UBM / Medical Economics.
My last article discussed how psychology can help us to cope with the impact negative patient reviews have on our physician psyche.
Today I will take a more proactive approach and share how we can prevent bad reviews in the first place by using the psychological techniques of deep listening and emotional validation to build empathy and improve patient satisfaction.
Even when we spend a great deal of time with our patients or do something really important for them like making a critical diagnosis, or heck, maybe even saving their lives, patients may leave their visit feeling unsatisfied. This can be intensely frustrating for the us since we try our best to care for the patient and simply cannot understand what went wrong.
More importantly, feeling unable to make patients happy leads to physician burnout. Doctors who receive negative feedback from patients may begin to feel a lack of accomplishment in their work, or a sense that what they are doing doesn’t matter. They may also begin to develop negative feelings towards patients, which can cause cynicism and detachment.
The good news is that there is a simple way to improve patient satisfaction—and in return, to improve our own satisfaction as physicians. And no, it doesn’t mean giving in to every patient demand for antibiotics or pain medications. The key is learning how to help patients feel heard and understood, which we can do using psychology.
What leads to patient dissatisfaction?
The biggest cause of dissatisfaction occurs when patients leave the office without feeling that their doctor really listened to them.
Unfortunately, sometimes doctors unknowingly give that impression to their patients. Although we may be listening, it may not always be obvious to our patients as we click away on the keyboard and scroll through computer screens. And with the increasing demands of EHRs, computerized physician-order entry, and mandatory check-boxes, we can become so distracted by our role as data entry clerks and paper pushers that we sometimes lose our focus.
By bringing our attention back to the patient–at least at the beginning of the visit—we can dramatically improve patient satisfaction. The bonus is that when we focus on building relationships with our patients, we will find that we get the information we need from them more quickly, and our office visits become more efficient.
The key to patient satisfaction is learning how to show empathy—that you understand their concerns, and you care. Most doctors do care about their patients, but not all are naturally good at projecting empathy to make patients feel cared about and understood.
The simplest way to show empathy is to start with a smile. Even if you don’t feel happy, smile anyway. Psychology shows us that emotions are contagious, so when you smile at patients, even a brief smile, they will automatically smile back. This alone will make them feel more welcome and happier.
Next, engage with the patient in a small physical way. Shake hands. Touch them on the shoulder or elbow. This type of expressive touch has been shown to improve interactions between physicians and patients.
Sit down at the same level as the patient and look them in the eye. Spend just a few moments making small talk before you start scrolling around on the computer–this helps to build a bond that may help the patient to open up more quickly when you begin discussing health issues. You can ask about the patient’s family or hobbies, upcoming holiday plans, or even just chat about the weather.