Improving the Forgotten Half of Doctor-Patient Communications
The doctor's comment was a bit startling, but it was entirely believable.
A physician-friend tells us that 75 percent of doctors forget to introduce themselves properly when meeting patients.
OK…it’s a hectic day in the office. Behind schedule…again. The usual stuff. But without a proper introduction—quick, simple, sincere—everything that follows in the encounter is slightly off-center and can be less effective or easily slide downhill.
Our friend—who is sensitive to the doctor-patient relationship process—says that the best practice elements for a proper introduction include:
- A big smile and friendly greeting;
- State your name, specialty and years of experience;
- Shake hands (when appropriate);
- Greet everyone in the room; and
- Sit down and make eye contact.
Without rushing things, a proper greeting and introduction is a worthwhile investment of less than 20 seconds. There may be moments for typing notes or orders. But the engagement is mainly face-to-face when discussing diagnosis, treatment plan and follow-up. The patient—not the computer—has primary attention.
The critical 55 percent of communications…
The frequently quoted statistic says that only seven percent of communications is verbal, and 93 percent is non-verbal. And within the non-verbal slice, “tone of voice” accounts for 38 percent, and “body language” contributes 55 percent.
So, if the formula is correct, the biggest single element in communications is “body language” (at 55 percent). Better than half of any messages is expressed through (non-verbal) facial expressions, gestures, posture, etc.
We seldom think about our body language habits. We don’t think much about breathing; it’s extremely important, but we take it for granted. The trouble is, poor body language can nearly erase effective communications and make you appear unprofessional.
Tips for physicians, staff and healthcare professionals…
How you present yourself is relatively easy to do, but remembering the critical 55 percent is the first step. During patient encounters—actually, anytime, anywhere—here are some easy to use tips for making a positive impression and sending the right non-verbal messages:
Eye contact: Without overdoing it, use eye contact to reinforce connectivity. Avoiding eye contact suggests disinterest.
Face-to-face: For direct engagement, present yourself directly toward the other person. Turned away, even partially or leaning away, suggests disinterest and breaks the connection.
Gestures: Using your hands when speaking adds credibility and emphasis.
Nod, smile, laugh: When the other person is speaking, a simple head nod acknowledges what they are saying. A sincere smile is seldom out of place; laugh when appropriate.
Posture: A overly stiff appearance suggests concern or stress. A relaxed, comfortable posture sets a friendly and open tone.
Remove barriers: Don’t allow furniture or other physical obstructions to block the connection.
Uncross arms and legs: You may recognize this one. Crossed arms and legs signals disinterest or not being open to ideas or comments.
Then there’s the power of a friendly touch…
Some medical facilities and providers avoid the traditional handshake. But within office guidelines, a simple handshake makes an immediate, positive impression. What’s more, the gentle touch to the shoulder or arm can effectively reinforce trust, encouragement and the relationship.
The often neglected, 55 percent of doctor-patient communications—the critical non-verbal elements—plays a vital role in effective, person-to-person communications. The way a doctor or staff member interacts with, and communicates with, patients is the sum of many things.
In addition to the words you say and hear, how you appear, act and move contributes to the success of the healthcare encounter. The bottom line is how communications reduces anxiety and builds a trusting relationship.
For related reading, click through here to our free marketing information library:
- Two Quick Lessons That Improve Doctor-Patient Communications
- Doctors, Magic and Lessons in Patient Communications
- 10 Reasons for Doctors to Polish their Communications Skills