Listen to the patient: He is telling you the diagnosis,” Sir William Osler
Most patients are interrupted by their physicians after 18 seconds… yes 18 seconds.
Well, that isn’t going to cut it anymore.
Patients are individuals. They have differing ideologies, values, goals, pain thresholds, lifestyles, and few patients react the same way to the same disease process.
Enter the days of Informed Decision Making …
Poor communication and poor listening skills are likely at the heart of this emerging high tech-low touch method of treating patients these days. In these days of medical data overload, it is becoming far too easy to order and treat a lab test or MRI, as opposed to treating a patient as a person.
Each injury has its own “personality”. That means that an ACL tear in a couch potato who slipped picking up their newspaper probably needs to be treated differently than a patient of the same age who exercises twice a day and plays every sports under the sun. Yet, of all the second opinions I am seeing that doesn’t seem to be the case. In most cases patients are being told – “your MRI showed this and you need that”…
Incorporating the art of informed decision-making into your daily workflow means you need to listen to your patient. You need to dive deep into their own ideologies, values and goals that will shape their decision when presented with the alternatives available. Your are a coach, you are part of a team that will arrive at the right choice for that patient at this particular time. You will need to listen for more than 18 seconds … and you will need to learn to treat patients as people and not as a disease state or an MRI finding.
Physicians feel rushed because they’re trying to maintain their income as their reimbursements decline and they need to spend more time filling out reams of paperwork to justify many of their requests or actions. We need to adjust to this new reality without putting our patients health at risk… or without recommending a procedure that someone clearly doesn’t need.
In a recent NY Times piece.. The author, Seth Horowitz points out ..
Listening is a skill that we’re in danger of losing in a world of digital distraction and information overload.
“You never listen” is not just the complaint of a problematic relationship, it has also become an epidemic in a world that is exchanging convenience for content, speed for meaning. The richness of life doesn’t lie in the loudness and the beat, but in the timbres and the variations that you can discern if you simply pay attention.
Embracing the art of listening will lead to better treatment decisions, better resource utilization, fewer medical errors, a happier more engaged patient base and hopefully a physician who once again can enjoy the non-monetary rewards of a career in medicine.