by Edward Leigh, MA
The first few moments of the patient interview sets the tone for the patient experience — what happens in the first 10-20 seconds makes or breaks the experience.
Sequence of events for seeing a NEW patient: (in chronological order)
(Before you walk in the room, take a deep breath to recharge yourself! One more item, if you just had an onion-filled sandwich, please pop a mint in your mouth!)
Say patient’s name (e.g., “Hello, Mrs. Smith”). If you are unsure of pronunciation — ask FIRST before attempting to state name. You may also want to check with colleagues about pronunciation before entering the patient’s room.
State your name & role (e.g., “Hello, I am Mary Smith. I will be your nurse.”). Recent research has shown that patients prefer hearing both the first AND last names of the professional.
Meet the guests. If possible, ask patient to introduce you so you can learn relationships (e.g., “This is my daughter, Carol.”). Repeat name after meeting (e.g., “Hello Carol, a pleasure to meet you.”). Remind them to feel free to add information and ask questions. It is vital to establish a great relationship with the patent’s guests.
Provide your photo / business card, if applicable. It is important to provide the card at the beginning, otherwise part way through the interview, the patient may state, “So who are you?” I have seen this happen many times.
Signpost. This word means to tell people what’s coming next in the interview (i.e., providing direction). Explain to them what will be happening relieves their anxiety. For example, you can say, “Today, we’ll first talk about what brought you in, then I will examine you and discuss treatment options.”
What about the handshake? There are many opinions on this subject, often divergent. Should you shake the patient’s outstretched hand? Should you initiate the handshaking gesture? Gregory Makoul and his colleagues at Northwestern University’s School of Medicine in Chicago wrote an article in the Archives of Internal Medicine on this subject. Of the patients surveyed, 78.1 per cent wanted physicians to shake their hands. This study seemed to indicate the handshaking is desired among physicians, however it is unclear if this behavior is desired among other healthcare professionals. I look at this topic on a case by case basis. For example, a handshake would be more of an expected gesture for a middle-aged man as opposed to a teenaged girl. Overall, from a patient experience perspective, I would suggest shaking hands. A physician recently asked me, “I always gel up before seeing each patient. If I see a patient who I suspect has the flu, if they initiate a handshake, what should I do?” I suggested they shake the patient’s hand and then quickly gel up again. Not shaking an outstretched patient’s hand will severely damage the relationship.
Look for Part II soon … “Your Powerful First Few Questions.”
Edward Leigh, MA, is the Founder and Director of the Center for Healthcare Communication. The Center focuses on increasing patient satisfaction and decreasing the risk of medical errors. The Center offers high-impact training, consulting and one-on-one coaching. Edward Leigh’s new book is Engaging Your Patients is due out in the Spring of 2013. http://www.CommunicatingWithPatients.com or 1-800-677-3256