A huge influencer of patient satisfaction is physician communication, especially the listening part. And there are five key elements of making patients feel heard, according to research cited by NPR:
- Sitting down to speak to the patient;
- Introducing yourself to the patient;
- Explaining your role in the patient's care;
- Touching the patient (e.g., shaking hands); and
- Asking open-ended questions.
In a recent Johns Hopkins study of internal medicine interns, the doctors sat down at patients' bedside just 9 percent of the time. They used open-ended questions a more generous 75 percent of the time, while interns touched patients during 65 percent of visits.
Although this study looked at the inpatient setting, office-based physicians are exposed to the same medical training that NPR's John Henning Schumann, M.D., described as putting "a premium on accuracy and efficiency, which became conflated with speed." As a result, he observed that physicians usually don't practice the easiest way to engage in strong communication. In general, the residents studied overestimated their use of such "etiquette-based communication," according to the study.
A separate study previously reported by FiercePracticeManagement made an important point about doctors' physical touch. Patients perceived more empathy from physicians who touched them one to three times, such as through a handshake, hug or pat on the back, according to the questionnaires of 110 first-time patients. After three touches, however, the gestures lost their positive effect as they came across as disingenuous.
Moreover, while open-ended questions such as, "How are you feeling today?" can help build patient rapport, keep in mind that patients who are reluctant to bring up sensitive health issues, such as substance addiction, may be more forthcoming when doctors ask more pointed questions.