The Consultation, Part II

The first part of this series on Consultation addressed a number of things that work against your practice-building efforts by giving patients a poor first impression of you and your practice.  In this second part, you will learn the basics of conducting an impressive consultation.
 
Be Aware of Your Patient´s Thoughts

New patients share some common questions and concerns.  As part of your consultation, your goal should be to address these in a manner that satisfies the patient and affirms his decision to come to you for help.

Most new patients are looking for answers to the following questions:

1. Can you help me?
2. Do you understand my problem?
3. How long will it take?
4. What will you do?
5. How much will it cost?
6. What kind of treatment is it?
7. Will it hurt?
8. Do you know what you are doing?

Due to the nature of some of these questions, you will not be able to completely answer all of them on the patient´s first visit, but you will be able to acknowledge your patient´s concerns and give him some satisfying assurance.

Be Aware of Your Patient´s Feelings

Remember that your new patient has just spent some considerable time in your office prior to being seen by you. He probably had to complete some extensive paper work and if he was fast, he may have had to wait some extra minutes before seeing you.  Your patient might be experiencing a heightened level of frustration not only due to the amount of time that he has already been in your office, but also because of the pain he is in.  Most of us can relate to this frustration by remembering the toothache that brought us into the dentist´s office where we had to wait our turn, or the time we had to take a loved one to the hospital emergency room and wait for the next available doctor.  

There are several other things that can add to your patient´s level of frustration, including an initial greeting by your front desk staff that is cold and impersonal, and less than professional office esthetics.

Be Aware of Time – Yours and Your Patients´

Time is relative. Some doctors can do a great consultation in just five minutes where others may need 25 minutes.  The difference lies within the following three areas:

1. The type of case, i.e., a simple back problem vs. a more complicated personal injury case.
2. The level of complexity of the case, i.e., a recent condition vs. one that has been left untreated for a period of time.
3. The communication skills of the doctor.
Whereas the first two areas cannot be altered, doctors can certainly learn and master the communication skills that will help keep their consultation time to a minimum, thereby saving valuable time for themselves and their patients.

It should take no longer than five to seven minutes to orally review with the patient the symptoms and other relevant information he has given you on the forms he completed.  If you need additional detail, ask the patient questions in such a way as to receive “yes,’ or “no,’ or “short type’ responses.  Learn how to control the conversation and discuss the things pertinent to the patient´s problem, and keep the consultation moving without appearing rushed.  If your patient feels you are rushing, you are inadvertently sending him the signal that he and his condition are not your primary concern, which conjures up feelings of doubt and frustration in your patient.

It is important to remember that how you work with your patients in the beginning sets the standard for the rest of their visits.  So, even if you are having a slower day, work like you have a fully loaded schedule. By doing this, you will avoid unnecessary and unproductive chit-chat, and your patient will appreciate being able to quickly get out of your office and on with his own schedule for that day.  

Develop a Rapport

The question often arises whether or not the doctor should rush right into the consultation. It´s preferable to first spend a minute or two asking some questions about the person and begin developing a relationship of trust or “rapport.’  This can be very simply done, i.e., “Mr. Jones, it is nice to meet you (shaking hands). I am Dr. Smith. Who referred you to my office? I see you live in Folsom. How long have you lived there? You are an architect. How many years have you been doing that? What university did you attend?’

Conclusion

The consultation is all about the patient and his condition – by staying mindful of this and the preceding points, you will be able to perform a consultation in which the patient´s confidence in you and your ability to help him is elevated.  This sets the foundation for a long and healthy doctor to patient relationship.

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