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Rethinking purpose

August 11, 2017
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In a recent article, authors Tom Janisse and Karen Tallman described a study reporting key traits of physicians rated highest by patients [1]. These characteristics are expressed typically through interpersonal communication methods, but they are rooted in fundamental ideas about how providers think. This study uncovered personal experiences that helped transform physician’s ways of thinking, which shifted behaviors leading to high patient satisfaction.

Traits exhibited by the highest rated doctors are neither inborn nor profession specific. Some individuals may have better skills than others, but this doesn’t necessarily predict high-quality doctor-patient interactions. This is evidence by the fact that some providers in the study previously rated at or below average for patient satisfaction until they encountered experience(s) that transformed their thinking. Instead of receiving formal training, significant life-events served as conduits to new ways of thinking about patients and professional role. Not only did these new perspectives lead to improved patient satisfaction, but also to improved professional satisfaction by the physicians.

Some transformative events that altered views of self and professional purpose?

1. Using a listening technique allowed one physician to focus on listening, which was a known weakness already identified in him/herself. However, learning and using the listening technique was not enough. Using the listening technique sometimes made the physician feel like they were being insincere. However, after realizing that hearing and understanding the patient’s story and needs were far more important than what the physician felt personally, the technique was embraced as a vital tool. With it, the physician could begin to understand patient needs rather than being distracted by what they themselves wanted.

2. One physician experienced a life-threatening illness who experienced frustration by being a patient with limited information about her own health and anxiety over not knowing whether her doctor had all the needed information at any point in time. Because of this experience, the physician now communicates key information to patients at the beginning of an encounter. First, the physician introduces herself, confirms her specialty, and then acknowledges that the patient’s records have been reviewed. She further states that one of her goals is the timely documentation of today’s visit so all other providers caring for the patient can have up to date information as quickly as possible. Finally, she asks how the patient feels.

This article supports the idea that teaching communication skills to physicians may not be effective without interventions designed to challenge and develop new ways of thinking about the physician’s role. When the practitioner’s self-concept aligns with patient needs, the necessary ingredients seem to be present for a successful and mutually satisfying encounter.

Reference List
1. Janisse T, Tallman K: Can All Doctors Be Like This? Seven Stories of Communication Transformation Told by Physicians Rated Highest by Patients. Perm J 2017, 21.

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