view from the top
When You're Talking the
Don't turn patients off by droning on.
Here's how best to talk to them.
Gary Gerber, O.D.
Unquestionably, the way we talk -- or don't
talk -- to our patients is by far the single most important factor impacting the
level of success of our practices. Regardless of where you practice, your mode
of practice, or your patient demographic make up, what you say to a patient and
how you say it is at the core of your practice's eventual success or failure.
How then can we hone this critical communication
skill? We could start with something as simple as concluding a case presentation
by asking a patient, "Do you have questions?" However, many patients
might be embarrassed to say "Yes," feeling that if they do, you might
question their capacity to interpret what you've just told them.
Additionally you can try, "Did I explain
everything okay to you?" This helps shift some of the "blame" for
them not understanding your explanation. Following are several other ways to
phrase your closing comments with patients; however, I believe that you can have
the most impact if you analyze your presentation to patients from the beginning,
through the middle, to the end.
ILLUSTRATION BY GERAD
Lights, camera, action!
I've videotaped hundreds of hours of
doctor-patient encounters. Both parties know the camera's on, but within
seconds, they forget and loosen up. As a consultant, I've scrutinized these
tapes to find ways for our clients to improve their case presentation skills.
The interpretation of each encounter is different, but we can make
Too much of a good thing?
Patients generally start to tune out our
explanations when we get too technical or too long. Thirty to 40 seconds appears
to be the limit of what patients are willing to listen to. Of course, exceptions
always exist . . . . Also, we've found little correlation in this time frame
with the seriousness of the condition being explained. For example, after about
30 seconds, patients enter "the zone" whether you're explaining
glaucoma or hyperopia.
Get to the point
Patients tell us on surveys and the videotapes
verify that they have a strong desire for us to address their chief complaint --
and not much else. While it's nice to tell a 29-year-old who has excellent
ocular health all of the things he doesn't have wrong with him, don't forget to
tell him why he gets headaches when he uses his computer.
Tell them what to do
Perhaps the largest omission we've seen
repeatedly in analyzing our tapes is that doctors have a strong aversion toward
telling patients what to do. They'll carefully, consistently and accurately lay
out their clinical findings, yet they're routinely reticent to "close the
case" by telling patients how they should proceed based on those findings.
Film your own videos and see if you find any of
the common occurrences listed above -- namely, over-explaining and losing the
patient's interest, not addressing the chief complaint or failure to bring your
presentation to a credible close. If so, then tape yourself again -- this time
without the patient -- and work on any of the shortcomings you find. More than
any other pieces of practice-building technology or software, the words you
speak have a huge impact on your practice's health. Recognize how profound this
impact is and start taping and practicing today!
Dr. Gerber is the president of the Power
Practice, a company specializing in making optometrists more profitable.
Learn more at www.powerpractice.com
or call Dr. Gerber at (800) 867-9303.
Optometric Management, Issue: May 2004