Wednesday, July 06, 2016

The two most important questions every doctor needs to ask every patient at every visit.

 This is a post I wrote for an online doctor site

Most medical students learn to take a medical history fairly quickly , and they are taught how to do a clinical examination and interpret lab reports.  However, their soft skills are often lacking , and while they are good at asking questions which allow them to drill down and come to the right diagnosis, the commonest complaint patients have about doctors is that they don't listen to them.

Being a good doctor involves a lot more than just making the right diagnosis and prescribing the right treatment - it requires you to establish an emotional connection with the patient , so that the patient can trust you and knows that you have his back - that your understand his problems , and empathize with him.
It's not very hard to do this - all you need to remember are these two key questions.

The first question when you first see the patient should be - How can I help you ?

This is a great open ended question , and you're giving the patient permission to unburden himself , so he can share what's on his mind. Please don't interrupt him - let him talk. You may think patients will go on and on , but most will tell you what they want you to know within a minute, if you allow them to do so.

The last question you need to ask before the patient leaves is - Are there any other questions I can answer for you ?

This is important , because again you're giving the patient permission to clarify his doubts and you're letting him know that you are keeping the channels of communications open. We tend to forget that patients are often scared of doctors , and that because they are nervous and anxious , they often forget half of what we tell them.  This lets them know that we're happy to answer any queries they have, so that we can reinforce the message we want to give them.

This is a very useful set of bookend questions for both starting the consultation and ending it. Some doctors may worry that their patients may end up wasting a lot of their time if they encourage them to ask questions.  However, this is not true, and it actually ends up saving you time because it reduces the patient's doubts and lessens confusion. These questions allow you to make sure that you're both on the same page, and you know exactly what the patient wants from you.  This way you don't fall into the common trap of assuming that the patient's presenting complaint is what his top priority is, because often the patient's real problem surfaces only after a few minutes of talking to them. This technique stops you from trying to guess what's bothering the patient, and you don't jump to the wrong conclusion because you've given the patient a chance to express himself.

If you don't do this, you may end up focussing on a problem which is not relevant to the patient . He may feel that you've not bothered to listen to him, and will end  up walking out of your clinic and go to your competitor down the road.

These simple questions will help you improve the care you provide to your patients, because they will feel cared for. These simple questions  will help you to stand out from other doctors, and appreciative patients will be happy to refer more patients to you, which is great for both your reputation and your practice.

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