Every patient that arrives for medical care is different. Whether they have experienced an emergency or are there for a routine checkup, individualized and personal attention can make a huge difference in their comfort with their doctor or medical assistant. The process of recovery can also be greatly affected by their relationship with their providers. How much a patient feels they can trust their health care professional will influence whether they ask questions or return for a follow-up appointment. Patients will respond to different forms of attention in different ways, so it is very important that the doctor and medical assistant are skilled in reading body language and interpreting cues.
Simple actions are often overlooked
Sometimes the most obvious methods of connecting with patients are overlooked in the interest of time and efficiency. But, simple habits are easy to learn. Sitting down next to the patient is one way to create a connection. Oftentimes when a medical assistant or doctor is standing over a patient’s bed, the patient can feel intimidated. By literally adjusting to that patient’s level, a more conversational and intimate discussion can occur. 1
Touching your patient is a powerful way to connect with them as well. 2 The power of touch has long been regarded as a healing tool, and the fact that many medical practitioners forget how important that can be affects their patients’ mood and trust. A simple touch has the ability to reduce stress and has been found to increase the level of oxytocin, which is a hormone that plays a major role in emotional bonding. Because medical assistants are often the first point of contact before the patient is seen by the doctor, they may have more time to connect with patientsusing their touch to soothe by placing a comforting hand on the shoulder or shaking hands at the end of the appointment. 3
Asking open-ended questions is a third, often forgotten way for medical assistants, nurses and doctors to create a friendly and comforting environment. Rather than focusing on the reason for the patient’s visit as noted on their intake forms, asking questions about their comfort or daily activities can create a dialog that improves the patient’s confidence in their providers.
Older patients need concentrated attention
The population of older adults in the U.S. is growing and with it is the number of senior patients needing medical care. Communication for elderly people can be hindered as they age due to sensory loss, slower ability to process new information or a decline in memory. There are a few ways to help bridge any communication gap and maintain a strong relationship with senior patients. One way to do this is by allowing more time for older people during an appointment. Many elderly patients require more complete information from their nurse or doctor, and because they may be nervous they make lack focus. This requires practitioners to be patient. By planning for more time to explain all your answers to their questions, older patients will feel comfortable and be open to listening or following directions. This also allows for more time to answer any questions the patient may have.
Speaking slowly, clearly, and in short, easy-to-understand sentences will also go a long way for your senior patients. Avoid confusing jargon that will intimidate them from asking clarifying questions. The rate at which older adults learn is slower than that of younger people, making instructions more difficult to remember if they are not explained simply and explicitly. Writing instructions down in a way the patient can understand and follow them at home is a good way to help. With a written list, the patient can review their plan with the medical assistant at a later time, and have a checklist to mark each item as they complete it. Information overload tends to confuse most patients, so splitting up treatment plans into short lists is a good way to combat that confusion. Using charts, models and graphics is another interactive way to communicate with older patients. 4
1 Schumann, John Henning, “5 Simple Habits Can Help Doctors Connect With Patients,” NPR.org, January 11, 2014, http://www.npr.org/blogs/health/2014/01/11/261398048/5-simple-habits-can-help-doctors-connect-with-patients
2 Ofri, Danielle M.D., “Not on the Doctor’s Checklist, but Touch Matters,” NYTimes.com, August 2, 2010, http://www.nytimes.com/2010/08/03/health/03case.html?_r=0
3 Reisman, Anna B., “In Practice: Doctors, don’t be afraid of the friendly touch,” LATimes.com, October 24, 2011, http://articles.latimes.com/2011/oct/24/health/la-he-practice-touch-20111024
4 Robinson II, Thomas E. PhD, White, George L. Jr., PhD, and Houchins, John C., “Improving Communication With Older Patients: Tips From the Literature,” AAFP.org, Sep.1, 2006, http://www.aafp.org/fpm/2006/0900/p73.html