As a healthcare practitioner, you have the training and credentials to diagnose and treat a variety of health conditions. You have the ability to effectively weed out misinformation. You are confident in your knowledge and the holistic solutions you offer. And you practice your expertise daily.
But the same isn’t true for the patient. Their experience is quite different.
Let’s take a look at a common example of such an experience. Sally has a small but annoying cough, and she wants it gone. She types in her symptoms into Dr. Google, and eagerly awaits the results to reveal her for-sure diagnosis. She has no grid for the expertise your many years of training can provide but instead, leans on the information she obtains from her non-certified online practitioner.
When Sally reads through the list of possible diagnoses, she zeroes in on the worst-case scenario. What started off as a nagging cough has now become some far-fetched disease or terminal illness. Sally is now freaking out and overcome with anxiety and worry.
She goes to her traditional MD, looking for help, but to no avail. But her symptoms still remain. Frustrated, she returns to her online search and happens to find your office. She’s hopeful that you can help and decides to make an appointment.
When you meet her for the first time, you’ve reviewed her paperwork, looked at any lab tests and are prepared to address her concerns with compassion. You’re ready to start doing what you do best – finding solutions for your patients.
But as a healthcare practitioner, it’s easy to forget their concerns and hesitations that existed before they ever stepped foot into your office. So, it begs the question – How can you keep in mind the perspective of the patient while helping them resolve their health concerns?
When your day-in and day-out is in the healthcare field, it’s easy to forget that what some of your patients are experiencing is their worst nightmare and greatest fear.
So, how do you reassure your patient that you’ve got their back? How do you calm their fears and put their nightmares to rest? Below are seven simple ways on how you can do just that.
1. Extend Empathy
By the time patients wind up at your office, they’ve likely tried a number of options – from a random herb off some website to the medical doctor who didn’t have a viable solution. Now, the patient is in your office, with a full bag of supplements, no improvement, and a growing level of anxiety and frustration.
You’re tempted to jump in and tell the patient in front of you everything you know – what’s going on in their body, why their supplements aren’t working, and what they should do instead. But you know that doing so will only cause more confusion and overwhelm. Too much information leads to an inability to decide.
This is where empathy comes in.
Empathy will go a long way. It not only helps your patients feel heard and understood, but it also helps you operate more efficiently in the treatments you offer. So, next time you notice your patients becoming frustrated or overwhelmed, offer up some empathy.
Here are some of my go-to expressions:
- I know this feels overwhelming but I’ve got your back.
- I know how you’re feeling – I feel overwhelmed sometimes too
- It’s OK to feel frustrated. I get it. And I’m always happy to listen and then find a good solution.
These simple phrases can go a long way in helping your patients feel more at ease.
2. Listen More Than You Speak
An important part of empathy is your ability to listen.
Patients share a lot of personal information during their appointments with you, especially if you give them the opportunity. Their words may tell you one thing, but by listening to what’s really being said, you may be able to figure out that there’s more going on beneath the surface. Becoming an active listener can actually increase your efficacy and make you a more efficient practitioner.
Listening to your patients – truly hearing what they say and what’s behind it – can save you time in the long run. And when your patients feel heard, your patient satisfaction scores also start to rise.
Zeno of Citium once said, “We have two ears and one mouth, so we should listen more than we say.” As your patients are talking, try to focus on them instead of thinking about your response. Listen between, behind, and around what they’re saying. Become a better listener than you are a talker. You’ll be amazed at what you’ll learn.
3. Give Them Kudos
Before your patient’s step foot in your office, they’ve likely done some research and tried a few other options that haven’t worked out so well. They’re working with you because they really do want to get better.
Acknowledge their hard work. Let them know they’ve done a great job at researching, investigating, and finding products that they think are going to help them. That takes a lot of work and time, so be sure and commend them on their dedication.
This shows them that even though they may not have been spot-on with everything, they did do something right – they’re trying. This encourages them to be more open to what you have to say.
4. Give Them an Easy Win They Can Get Right Away
Your patients have invested a lot of time and money into fixing their health challenges. They may feel frustrated. They may feel defeated. They may also feel cash-strapped.
Try to think of one, low cost, easy action they can take that’ll give them a quick win. Something they can do today that doesn’t involve ordering another test or adding more supplements to their protocol.
For example, almost everyone has digestive issues. One easy win for your patient is to recommend adding digestive bitters to their water. As they consume the bitters, they’ll begin to feel the ease in heartburn, indigestion, bloating, or gas. This is a simple, quick win they can experience right away.
Quick wins like this instill confidence and hope in your patients. They prove to your patients that you’re not only focused on ‘selling’ them something – you’re looking for ways to help them save money and get quick wins.
5. Educate Slowly
Your patient may show up, armed and ready with their long list of supplements and a for-sure diagnosis based on what they’ve read online. Then, they’ll want to know if you can help them.
This is where you may feel the urge to over-educate and tell them everything. To show how capable and knowledgeable you are, educating them about all the things in their body that are probably going wrong. But all this only overwhelms your patient, adding to the confusion and potentially making them feel pretty bad about their attempts to help.
Instead, consider how you can language your response in a way that honors the patient. Where you can shift the spotlight from you onto them? Ask yourself how you can slow down, listen better, and use this opportunity to help guide your patient into a different way of thinking about their health.
So, instead of jumping in deep, start with your patient’s main concern or most troubling symptom. Then, move to the main pathology of their condition and how you suggest treating it. Take time to draw visuals and demonstrate. The combination of seeing and hearing will help cement your education into the patient’s mind.
6. Speak Simply
As you begin slowly educating your patients, speak thoughtfully, and simply. Swap out your medical jargon with words that a fifth-grader could understand. Remember that your patient is relying on you to translate complicated medical speak into solutions that will help them feel better.
Check-in along the way, making sure they are tracking with you. And allow time for them to ask questions. Ask questions back to them about what you’ve shared, reinforcing their learning. This encourages their participation, which ultimately will increase their commitment to your recommended treatment.
7. Create a Straight Forward Plan
You’ll have a good idea about the direction you want to take the patient in order to begin unwrapping their health concerns. As you make a mental note about the steps you want to take and the sequence they need to be in, be careful not to provide all the details at once. Just because you know it, doesn’t mean they need to as well.
Give your patients just enough information about their next steps to make them feel comfortable, confident and at ease with your guidance. They don’t need to know what is going to happen in 3 months, 6 months or a year from now. Providing them with a simply written plan, outlining your strategy, any supplements you want them to take and lifestyle or dietary changes can give them the confidence they need to take on the next steps in their healing journey.
Remember Their Perspective
As healthcare practitioners, it’s all too easy to stay in your own clinical zone, dealing with one patient after the next, outlining guidelines and giving directives. Yes, you’re quick, sharp, and on-the-move. You also care deeply about your patients and want them to get better.
So, when you sit down to talk with your patients, instead of adding to their stress or overwhelm, you can be the one who changes the narrative. You can provide hope, extend empathy, and ultimately bring genuine healing into their lives.
Remember that their journey started long before they found you.
Take some time this week to think about your patients – new and existing – and put yourself in their shoes. Remembering that they are relying on your expertise and experience to help them finally start feeling better will allow for greater empathy and ultimately, a better patient experience.
1. (2020, January 30). The Role of Empathy in Health and Social Care Professionals. Retrieved September 2, 2020, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7151200/
2. (2019, February 28). A Guide to Bitters: How to Use, Benefits, Flavors, and Recipes. Retrieved September 2, 2020, from https://www.healthline.com/health/food-nutrition/how-to-use-bitters