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Exam Room Manners

Apr 16, 2019 07:00AM ● By The Hood Magazine
By Alex Strauss

As a professional communicator, I pride myself on being able to establish rapport easily with
most people in most situations. The exception is when I am rushed, overtired, overworked or distracted. Almost without exception, if I am going to have a conflict with someone, it is most
likely to happen when I am in this state of mind. Unfortunately for healthcare professionals, rushed is practically the norm and distraction is difficult to avoid with so many required “hoops”
to jump through. But with patient satisfaction increasingly linked to the bottom line, it pays (literally) to remember to use some of the subtle communication cues that can make the difference between simply treating a patient’s ailment and truly putting them at ease.

Make - and hold - eye contact - The need to enter data into the electronic health record is a fact of modern medicine and most patients understand this. However, taking just a few seconds at the outset to look directly at the patient, extend a warm greeting, and listen (even briefly) before
entering information can set the tone for the whole appointment. You might be surprised how many practitioners fail to do this and dive right into documentation mode with little more than a smile and a nod.

Use “open” body language - People are naturally more forthcoming and at ease when they feel that their audience is receptive. Demonstrate receptiveness by not crossing arms or legs, leaning forward as the patient speaks, and positioning yourself so that the computer is not directly between you and the patient.

Offer acknowledgment - As every physician knows, sometimes patients just need to be heard.
Often, important information can be hiding just behind their words. Keep them talking and ensure you’re getting the full picture by acknowledging that you’re listening, even while you are taking notes. This is easy to do by nodding, looking up occasionally, and offering verbal encouragement such as “I see”, “Go on”, “Okay”, etc.

Smile - This can be surprisingly hard, especially in the midst of a difficult day. But remember -
You may be seeing 30 patients that day, but for your patient, their encounter with you is likely the most important of their day, if not their week. Take a moment to make a connection with a
warm smile, even if you have to force it. As the saying goes, “Patients will not care how much
you know until they know how much you care.”
A simple smile speaks volumes.

Say goodbye - You may know that you won’t be back into the exam room, but it may not always be obvious to the patient, especially if there are other things to be done (a blood draw, an injection, etc.). Even if you’re rushed (who isn’t?), take a moment to thank them for their time,
reiterate next steps, and simply say goodbye so that they never feel left “hanging”.
At the end of the day, the doctor/patient interaction is an exchange between two human beings
and every one of us is flawed. Keep it as real as possible, be human, and if you fail to do any of
the above, remember that a simple apology can go a long way toward preserving and nurturing
the relationship.