Rotations are a great time to practice your communication skills with patients, especially with medical interviews. The information you gain and compile into a History and Physical is crucial in building a differential diagnosis and management of your patient.
Trust me when I say that you will get better and faster with time. However, I want to make the point that learning how to effectively communicate matters more than time and will help throughout your encounter with your patient.
- Establish rapport. It’s so important to attempt to make the patient feel comfortable. After all, they are their most vulnerable to you. How would you like it if someone was very cold to you and didn’t seem to care very much? Just spend a minute or two getting to know your patient; the social history can be helpful in terms of asking what he or she does for a living or if they have children.
- Respect privacy.When you begin to ask more sensitive questions, especially during social history, be mindful of your tone and volume with your voice. Before starting any patient interview, ALWAYS address and ask if the patient is comfortable with other family or friends in the room.
- Consider non-verbal communication. Be inviting and non-judgemental with your body language and with your speech. Do NOT cross your arms, tap your foot, or make zero eye contact. DO have an open posture, lean forward, make eye contact, and face the patient if possible. Showing interest goes along way.
- Ask open-ended questions. This is something I used to struggle with because I felt like it would be easier to ask yes or no questions; however, you miss out on a lot of key information if you don’t ask open ended questions. It also makes the patient feel more comfortable as if you’re actually giving them a chance to tell their story.
- Do not interrupt. This is also very important. We can be so quick to interrupt and forget to truly listen. I once had an attending tell me, “your patient will tell you what’s wrong with them, but only if you take the time to listen.” I very much agree.
I hope you find these tips to be helpful as I understand that sometimes it’s easier said than done, but it is worth refining your skills to better communicate with your patients.