When caring for patients, being there doesn't mean just being there

Is your doctor really there?

 Suzanne Koven, MD

Suzanne Koven, MD

Suzanne Koven, MD, gave this question some thought after seeing a "Doctor present" sign at a pharmacy while traveling in Dublin. 

Am I “present” in my practice, even when I am in? Though we all like to think of ourselves as exceptions when it comes to unflattering statistics, the likelihood is that I am not as present as I think I am or would want to be. If we define “presence” for a doctor as maintaining eye contact, paying close attention to what a patient is saying and not interrupting the statistics aren’t pretty.

One reason is time. Another is volume.

In 2010, there were 1 billion physician office visits, with 55.5 percent visits with primary care doctors. The top reason for the visit was a cough. And the top diagnosis was hypertension. More than 51 percent of those visits lasted 15 minutes or less.

But those 15 minutes need to count.

Patient engagement is the buzz of the health care industry. Everyone from marketers to quality directors are embracing and exploiting it.

Here are three ideas for better patient engagement — and it starts with "being there."

  1. Be ready: Patients must do their part to clearly articulate their ailment. If patients spend a little time to prepare before their appointment, they will better understand their treatment plans and their satisfaction will skyrocket.
  2. Be in the moment: Caregivers must listen first. And listen well. You are face-to-face with another human being — make a connection and understand the obstacles that stand in the way of compliance with your care plan. Look beyond the individual in front of you and absorb the totality of the person and his or her environment. That will help you develop a care plan that will actually be effective and successful.
  3. Be encouraging: Nobody likes to go see the doctor, even if it's for a "well checkup." Your caregivers poke, prod, ask personal and sometimes seemingly embarrassing questions and, of course, weigh you. And when the advice is "lose weight" or "just take these," caregivers need to try to be a little more encouraging to patients who see these encounters as their Sisyphus moments. A little communication goes a long way — and makes for a happier and healthier patient.

This post originally appeared on EngagingPatients.org, a blog dedicated to advancing patient and family-centered care. I am a member of the Engaging Patients Advisory Board and write for the blog.