Our job as health care professionals is not just to diagnose our patients by applying our scientific knowledge and clinical skills, but also to be the “communicator-in-chief,” “listener-in-chief,” and “reassurer-in-chief.”
Any doctor who doesn’t fully grasp this, is not doing the best job they can or being the best doctor they can be. I truly believe that over 90 percent of our everyday job as a physician involves being a good communicator. We’ve already reached a certain standard of clinical competence to be able to practice medicine and be unleashed on the general public. The rest is on us, to communicate well with patients and leave a positive impression at a low point in their lives. It’s oh so easy to get into a groove where everyone becomes “just another name on our list” (and very human too, we all fall into that trap).
But the patient who is about to walk in and see us, or lying in the room we are about to enter, may have been waiting to see us for hours, days or weeks. Imagine a family member or friend, the one you love the most, in that helpless situation where their life is turned upside down. It’s important we never forget that, and remember that a large number of our patients are very anxious about the situation they are in. The number one thing our patients want in those precious few minutes we have with them, is to feel that their doctor truly cares and is there to help them. That’s our job in a nutshell. There are a number of verbal and non-verbal techniques that can reinforce that sense of caring and connection.
On that note, here are five words that physicians can utilize at the end of their discussion, that can really help reassure them too. Most of the time, when discussing any potential serious issue that is going to be very treatable, any physician can simply lean in and say with a calm reassuring empathetic voice:
“It’s going to be OK.”
This may sound like a very basic statement, but is a very powerful thing for a patient to hear from their medical professional! It’s underutilized in health care, especially by doctors. I would go much further and say that this statement can be used in any situation when you are talking to an anxious person, who is offloading a problem that concerns them, onto you. Do you have a friend who is in trouble? A family member who is worried about something? Be a good listener, give them some trusted advice and just tell them that “it’s going to be OK.” Obviously, sometimes a problem might be so bad that it may not be OK or solvable. But I guarantee most of the time, and for most people, there are better days ahead, and things will get better. So tell them things are going to be OK. It’s one of the best things you can say to anyone who is in a tough spot in life.