Get Personal with Your Patients
By Marc A. Milano, MD, FACEP
A useful model for looking at patient satisfaction is to think in terms of “The Patient Experience.” The patient experience combines personal interactions, the ED environment and institutional culture.
As clinicians, we influence the patient experience in multiple ways. Primarily, we are responsible for gathering information about and from the patient and processing that information to determine appropriate testing and treatment. Then we provide information to the patient regarding our diagnosis and treatment plan. So it’s clear that communication is a critical element in producing a positive patient experience. How well we perform this task is directly related to how patients perceive the care they have received—and how they feel about their ED experience.
The following are a few ways to initiate dialogue and create a positive environment of care through communication.
- It’s OK to Get Personal: As practitioners, we feel the need to stay focused, impartial and emotionally uninvolved. However, asking some basic questions such as: “What kind of work do you do?” “Do you have any kids or grandchildren” or “Where are you from” shows an interest in patients as individuals. These questions help make the uncomfortable experience of being in an ED a little more personal and can improve survey scores. The answers may be relevant to the patient’s complaint; they are always relevant to the patient’s needs, fears, and expectations. Discovering that your patient’s greatest concern is that she be able to dance at her granddaughter’s wedding this weekend is important, and how you deal with that wish can be the key to her ED experience. If you take 10 seconds to address that concern and let her know you will do everything you can to make it possible, she’ll be happy. If you ignore that wish, she’ll be disappointed. And if you dismiss that wish, she’ll be angry.
- Think Like A Patient: ED patients typically feel anxious, uncomfortable and vulnerable. They are in a strange place, often alone. They are then made to undress and are frequently subjected to painful, invasive or frightening interventions (think: rectal exam or spinal tap). We understand that these procedures are necessary to provide an accurate diagnosis and develop a treatment plan. A simple statement such as “I know how strange and uncomfortable this must be, but we need to do this to do the best job of figuring out what’s wrong and what to do to help you,” along with a brief explanation of the process and an estimate of the time involved will go a long way toward making patients feel that you understand and are concerned about their discomfort.
In short, using simple, clear language and acknowledging each patient’s feelings can help foster a therapeutic relationship and ensure patient satisfaction.
Marc A. Milano, MD, FACEP, is an emergency physician at Somerset Medical Center in Somerville, N.J. He serves as physician head coach of the Patient Satisfaction Coaching Program at Emergency Medical Associates, an emergency medicine practice headquartered in Livingston, N.J. He is the medical director of emergency medical services (EMS) at Somerset Medical Center. Dr. Milano received his undergraduate degree from Rutgers University, his medical degree from St. George’s University in Grenada, and completed his emergency medicine residency at Newark Beth Israel Medical Center.