Patient Interview not Going Well? Start Again!


Your interviewing a patient and things are not going well.  The patient
does not seem to be following or even worse seems upset.  Dr. Lony C.
Castro, a professor and chairwoman of the Obstetrics and Gynecology
Department at Western University of Health Sciences, suggests starting the
interview again.

Dr. Castro wrote an article for the Los Angeles Times in which she talked
about the benefits of a “second take” (Dr. Castro is in LA so she can use
movie jargon!).  She discussed an experience she had with an
end-of-the-day patient at a time when she was hoping to wrap up on time
and get home.  Her patient meeting did not go well and she thought, “If
only I
could start over.”  Then she decided to do just that — she asked the
patient if we could start again.  She began the interview again and it was
very successful.

Tips to make the first encounter the best:

Stop for a moment and mentally prepare.  Before you knock at your next
patient’s door, take a deep breath and mentally prepare for the visit.
If you are distracted with other patient issues or your own personal
issues, it is time to put those aside and focus on this particular patient.

Explain medical information to patients in an understandable way.
Rushing through complicated medical details can confuse patients.  They
will end up feeling frustrated.  If you don’t think you have time to
explain, think about how much time will be spent if the patient doesn’t
understand and has to call you back or make a return visit.

Body language and nonverbals.  Make sure yours are patient friendly —
good eye contact, facing the patient and never keeping your hand on a
doorknob!  Also, look at the patient’s cues — do they seem puzzled,
anxious or distracted?

If you need to start over:

After obtaining the patient’s permission, Dr. Castro physically left the
examination room and began the interview from the very start.  This second
try worked and the patient was very satisfied with the meeting.

You do not necessarily need to leave the room.  You can simply state, for
example, “I know this is a lot of information.  Let’s start again, if that
is acceptable to you.”

Work on making the first encounter the best possible meeting.  However, if
you need to start again, that is fine too.

Edward Leigh, MA, is the Founder and Director of the Center for Healthcare Communication.  To book one of his high-content communication skills programs, visit or call: or call 1-800-677-3256


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