How Excellent Physicians Break the Ice for Better Patient-Centered Care

[Study] When the patient and the provider meet for the first time, there is a tendency to “get down to business.” For the provider (whose schedule is normally jammed), the agenda is to address the clinical concerns of the patient. After all, that’s what doctors do. But the patient is also an individual, and taking a few minutes to recognize their uniqueness as a person is important to practicing patient-centered care and ultimately, to achieving patient satisfaction.

As elementary as it seems, “breaking the ice” and becoming acquainted with the individual (not just another case) can be overlooked as a critical component in the patient experience. In fact, researchers at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine recently published their study of the most effective and efficient methods for providers to get to know patients as individuals.

Their method was to survey 15 physicians who have been formally recognized for their clinical excellence to determine what questions or phrases they use when interviewing patients. The study revealed a total of 28 questions that were qualitatively analyzed and grouped into six major themes. They are:

  • An appreciation of the patient’s concerns;
  • Personal relationships;
  • Hobbies and pleasurable activities;
  • Open-ended questions to learn about the patient;
  • Work; and
  • The patient’s perspective on the patient-physician relationship.

The information is revealing and hopefully helpful reminders, particularly since the research was drawn from physicians recognized for their professional excellence. One might regard the list of categories as universal “conversation starters” that would commonly be part of any social (non-clinical) encounter. But are they effective?

To understand that part of the communications loop, the researchers conclude: “Future work should focus on obtaining the perspectives of patients, and on examining whether using the identified questions and phrases results in an improved patient experience as demonstrated by improved satisfaction ratings, ratings on the quality of physician-patient interaction, or patient outcomes.”

More about this study, Practicing Patient-Centered Care: The Questions Clinically Excellent Physicians Use to Get to Know their Patients as Individuals, is available through the US National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health.

Lonnie Hirsch


About Lonnie Hirsch

Co-Founder of Healthcare Success Strategies, Lonnie has consulted for over 2,000 health care clients during his 20-year career. Lonnie writes for many healthcare publications, and also has spoken at hundreds of venues nationally. His topics include patient experience, customer service, marketing, branding and business development.

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