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Issue: November 2007 Put Patients at Ease Without Saying a Word

Put Patients at Ease Without Saying a Word

QUESTION: My clinical skills are as good as any optometrist's. Is there something else patients appreciate that will set me apart from the competition?

By Allan S. Tocker, O.D. Wilmington, Del.

Answer: Being a good listener is a valuable, though often neglected, communication skill for a doctor. Patients appreciate being heard, and your ability to listen well may help you become a better clinician.

Here's how to polish your listening skills:

  • Give patients your undivided attention.
  • Maintain eye contact (but don't stare).
  • Try not to take notes while the patient is speaking.
  • Resist the urge to comment or offer advice until the patient is finished speaking.
  • Allow patients to express their feelings — fear, frustration, confusion — without appearing to pass judgment. What may first seem like a complaint actually may be a plea for help. For example, a patient who complains about needing reading spectacles may want you to help him stay in his contact lenses despite presbyopia.

When it's your turn to talk:

  • Summarize what you heard by repeating the problem back to the patient.
  • Show empathy by helping to fill in some details or by sharing how you helped another patient with the same problem.
  • Deliver several feasible treatment approaches or strategies, and be sure to discuss the pros and cons for each.

Remember, visiting a doctor's office can be stressful for patients. They may be worried about what you'll find. Good listening skills help solidify a strong doctor/patient relationship and allow you to become a supportive friend. nOD

A 1983 graduate of the Pennsylvania College of Optometry, Dr. Tocker practices in Delaware at his offices in Wilmington, Newark and the New Castle Farmer's Market.
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