Patient Experience and The Lost Art of Listening

listening skillsEarly on, we learn to talk. And throughout life we’re quick to “have something to say,” and contribute to social interaction…with friends, colleagues, and even with strangers.

Storytelling, verbally presenting ideas and communicating information becomes second nature; a practiced skill that’s valuable in business and personal interaction. Some people take public speaking classes or polish their leadership and “podium persona” via a Toastmasters group.

But being quick to talk in healthcare can shortchange both the patient and the professional. Some communications studies have found that listening and healthcare are closely connected:

  • Physicians interrupt the patient within 18 seconds
  • The true reason for a patient visit is never elicited in three out of four patient interviews
  • Doctors introduce themselves to patients on only one in four occasions
  • Physician encounters are often rushed, empathy was absent, and time for questions was limited
  • Conversationally, patients are rarely regarded as partners in their health care

Unlike speaking, the art of listening is often neglected as a deliberate endeavor.

Studies suggest that, although listening is our primary communications activity, most people are inefficient and ineffective listeners. In fact, the art of listening—really good listening—is nearly a lost art.

Successful physicians and business leaders use listening techniques to their advantage. It takes a deliberate effort to learn and practice the art of listening. Doctors and healthcare providers who pick up on the benefits of “listening first, and speaking second” are able to tap into a tool for improving patient-doctor interaction and the patient experience.

Improving your listening skills is a challenging exercise.

In any conversation, you might notice how you are mentally shaping a reply or response before the other person has finished speaking. Many of us do this habitually, and it takes self-awareness to recognize and change the habit. Consider these tips for improving patient encounters and improving patient satisfaction:

  • Avoid interruptions: Allow the speaker time, space and a calm, quiet environment.
  • Don’t judge the speaker: Pay attention to ideas or issues, not what’s said or how it’s being said.
  • Don’t multi-task: Put down your pen, ignore the computer screen, dismiss thoughts of the previous or next patient and minimize distractions.
  • Focus on the speaker: Make eye contact and respect their desire to tell you something that’s vitally important to them.
  • Listen for what you don’t know: The speaker’s essential message could be disguised.
  • Listen more and talk less: Arbitrarily allow the speaker 75 percent of the time available.
  • Provide “active listening” feedback: Ask feed-back questions to restate or confirm that “what was said is what was heard.”
  • Wait to shape a reply: Don’t think about your response before you hear what’s being said.
  • Watch for non-verbal clues: More than half of communications is non-verbal. “Listen” for body language as well as spoken words and ideas.

The pay-off in positive patient experience and satisfaction…

Improved communications skills—and practiced listening in particular—can result in better patient care. Moreover, “being heard” demonstrates stronger sense of caring, engagement and rapport between patient and physician.

Listening is the most powerful form of acknowledgment, one that builds relationships and provides a feeling of acceptance. Listening is a way of saying, “You are important.”

You’ll find related reading here:

9 Ways to Improve Doctor to Patient Interactions

Small Things That Build Patient Experience Big-time

Tell a Good Story: The Universal Patient Experience Gateway

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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