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Do you advise or dictate?

What do you advise most people who seek your help? What will solve most of their problems? It was interesting to read an article this week suggesting that junk food may be associated with depression. In her commentary Megan Lee notes:

Depression has long been treated with medication and talking therapies – and they’re not going anywhere just yet. But we’re beginning to understand that increasing how much exercise we get and switching to a healthy diet can also play an important role in treating – and even preventing – depression.

For many of the most coveted outcomes in healthcare three things are paramount:

  1. Eat less
  2. Exercise more
  3. Don’t smoke

Simple focus. Not easily translated in practice because selling a healthy lifestyle is tricky:

Interviews with 130 mothers of lower social class provided the basis for studying their views on the desirability of general practitioner intervention in their lifestyle habits; the study used both quantitative (questionnaire) and qualitative (interview) techniques. The majority of women were in favour of counselling on specific topics by the general practitioner but the qualitative data also revealed that most respondents expected the issues to be relevant to their presenting problem. Moreover they were keen to assert their right to accept or reject the advice given. Stott and Pill

Picture by Fit Approach

Who leads the way down the corridor?

It may seem a tiny detail but as you walk your client, customer or patient through your clinic, shop or premises who walks ahead? Specifically when you get to where you both need to be who takes the first step into the room? Does it matter? Have you tried to do it differently? What does your guest think? How do you know? Could it be part of the ritual of welcoming someone to your office? Here’s a perspective from Workopolis:

Hold the door. When you go through a door, always look behind you and see if anyone else is coming. If someone is, hold the door open for them for Pete’s sake. The same goes for when you are getting into the elevator and you see someone coming. Hold the elevator. It’s what separates us from the animals.

Picture by Carol Van Canon

I am Joe and I get what I want

As I surveyed the new intake of medical students one student found his way to the front of the room.

Are you the associate dean?

When I confirmed he went on:

My name is Joe ( Not his real name- to spare his blushes). You need to know that I get what I want.

Now two years later here was Dr. Joe graduating, resplendent in his academic gown. He has his wish which I hope is for a lifetime of selfless service to people in distress. So when he is called to the patient in bed 9, on the wards tonight and he is told:

I’m Mr. Smith, and you need to know I get what I want. Tell your boss to come to my room at 11am, I’ll be ready for him then and by the way I’m not happy taking those pill, please take them away.

Joe will know he has got his wish.

Picture by KC

Who taught you how to complain?

When during your training or your induction did anyone teach you how and when to express yourself when something did not meet with your expectations? Your parent might have said:

I know you’re angry darling but we don’t scratch and bite

How do your customers, clients, patients know how to complain? How did you learn to respond? Who models that behaviour for you? What is the approach to giving or receiving negative feedback where you work?

Picture by Paco Trinidad Photo

What do people see on your desk?

Okay so you might not have chosen the wall paper, the carpet or the size of your office but what’s on display on your desk? What impression is created at a glance? Do you look organised? Do you look like you’ve got the time to give your visitors some attention?

There are six reasons to clean off your desk and as Catherine Conlan suggests:

Remember, your workspace speaks for you even when you’re not there.

Picture by Andrew Tarvin

How do you explain?

In any meeting where you are the expert how do you explain technical details? As a doctor how do you explain viral illness? Warts? Heart disease? Cancer? How do you know the other person ‘gets it’? Do you say the same thing every time? Do you use pictures? Sounds? Have you practiced the script as much as you practice other aspects of your art? Why or why not?

Andrew McDonald wrote in the BMJ:

The development of such a language, securely founded in shared meanings, would be a good first step towards better communication between professionals and patients. It would not, of course, deliver the goal of full participation in decision making, but that goal will remain elusive unless we begin by understanding one another.

Picture by Marco Verch

How do you end your meetings?

We know how to start a meeting- we stand up, shake hands, say hello, smile. But what’s the best way to end a meeting? It matters for one reason:

The peak–end rule is a psychological heuristic in which people judge an experience largely based on how they felt at its peak (i.e., its most intense point) and at its end, rather than based on the total sum or average of every moment of the experience. The effect occurs regardless of whether the experience is pleasant or unpleasant. Wikipedia

If you are a doctor this is all the more important because people generally don’t seek a meeting with you because all is well. They may be experiencing all sorts of unpleasant feelings. So how do you end that meeting? How do you know it’s working?

Picture by Peter Lee

How does your skill at communicating manifest in your interactions?

It is assumed that doctors have to be specialists in communication. People will tell doctors things they may not confide in anyone else- much less a total stranger. That is part of the equity in the business of doctoring. So if you are a doctor, how does that manifest in your interactions with the people who seek your help? Is it reflected in your greetings? In your body language? In your eye contact? In the way you phrase your questions? In the way you terminate your meetings?

Picture by Paul Moody

The most valuable lesson learned on my first day as a doctor

Picture by JD Lasica

The infographic bandwagon rolling in to your clinic

In the wake of her book launch I had the honour to interview Dr. Halee Fischer-Wright President and CEO of MGMA. In her book: ‘Back to  balance:The art, science and business of medicine’ the author asserts:

We have lost our focus on strengthening the one thing that has always produced healthier patients, happier doctors, and better results: namely, strong relationships between patients and physicians, informed by smart science and enabled by good business.

In a separate blog post Larry Alton, business consultant addressing the business community says:

In 2017, you’ll find it difficult – if not impossible – to be successful without strategizing around customer communications. Customers have become conditioned to expect interaction and service. Provide both and you’ll be delighted with the results.

Most people will interact only with primary care when they need healthcare. The average consultation in primary care is less than 15 minutes. Therefore efficient communication is a priority. Larry Alton goes on to advise:

Communication is at the heart of engaging and delighting customers. The problem is that, even with all of the new advancements in communication technology, very few businesses are taking this all-important responsibility seriously. This results in poor relationships and a bad brand image.

His four key action points are:

  1. Hire empathetic employees
  2. Leverage the right communication mediums
  3. Use analogies to explain technical concepts
  4. Become a good listener

One area that seems to receive scant attention in medical practice is explaining technical concepts. And yet technical concepts are integral to medical practice:

  1. What pathology brought me here today?
  2. Why has my physiology responded in this way?
  3. What is the prognosis?
  4. Why do need this therapy?
  5. What are the risks?

Ours is a technologically proficient but emotionally deficient and inconsistent medical system that is best at treating acute, not chronic, problems: for every instance of expert treatment, skilled surgery, or innovative problem-solving, there are countless cases of substandard care, overlooked diagnoses, bureaucratic bungling, and even outright antagonism between doctor and patient. For a system that invokes “patient-centered care” as a mantra, modern medicine is startlingly inattentive—at times actively indifferent—to patients’ needs. Meghan O’Rourke

When explaining complex ideas there is a checklist:

  1. Does the patient want all the information?
  2. What are the implications of the prognosis?
  3. How can you explain with reference to something they are already know?
  4. What details can you leave out that would only serve to distract from an understanding?
  5. How can the patient assimilate this information actively?

Adapted from a post by Thorin Klosowski

Perhaps the neatest medium to communicate some aspects of a complex idea is the infographic. According to experts:

In the past 5 years, the term “infographic” has seen an impeccable rise in trend.In fact, the popularity of infographics is expected to see an increase of almost 5% by next year, meaning that anyone who isn’t yet riding the infographic bandwagon is bound to fall behind. The Daily Egg

Here are the data:

The Journal of Health Design has recently introduced the Infographic as a submission type. Communicating using this medium could reduce the time required to assimilate the information needed to make a decision.

Picture attribution