Leverage Your Voice to Build Your Business – Bedside Manner and Client/Patient Relations (Part 3 of 6)

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One of the most vital skills for a wellness provider to have is a good bedside manner. People are searching for health providers they can trust. They are seeking providers who truly listen, who show respect and empathy, and who communicate clearly. Don’t be “that” clinician who becomes known for being intimidating, uncaring, and/or unethical because you can’t relate to your patients. When it comes to bedside manner, here’s what matters.

Listening matters.

Without focused listening, there is no trust. Rapport cannot be established. Healing may be compromised. Here are some facts about listening that may be new to you. In addition, the following recommendations will help you build trusted relationships with your clients through listening:

  1. Don’t overbook client sessions. Schedule sessions with ample time for your clients to talk about what they are experiencing and how they feel about it. When a doctor doesn’t take time to listen, it comes across as rude and insensitive – qualities that lead to poor reviews and few repeat customers.
  2. Ask if clients have any questions. Then give them time to think of some if they are not top of mind. Ask again before the session ends.
  3. Answer the questions that are asked. First, verify that you understand the question that was asked. Then proceed to answer it as simply and succinctly as possible. If you don’t know the answer say so. If this is the case, be sure to offer a resource for more information or find the answer yourself and report back to the client in a timely manner.
  4. Listen with your eyes. Make good eye contact and observe facial expressions and body language as your clients speak. What are they trying to tell you that they may not be specifically saying in their words?

Empathy matters.

Health and wellness conversations with providers are extremely intimate. In order to get the best care, patients may have to disclose awkward or embarrassing symptoms and details. This article in the Journal of Patient Experience presents research on the need for practitioners to develop more empathy with their patients. Author Helen Riess writes that without compassionate care and empathetic treatment, dissatisfied patients “…are then much less likely to follow through with treatment recommendations, resulting in poorer health outcomes and damaged trust in health providers.” Another article, “Why Nice Doctors Are Better Doctors” provides more evidence for improving bedside manner through empathy. If you think you may need an empathy boost, here are some simple steps to enhance your skill:

  1. Remember that you are treating unique, vulnerable human beings. Your patients are not just a list of symptoms.
  2. Seek to observe and identify your patients’ emotions – such as frustration, fear, sadness, joy, anger, or relief. Then check to see if you are correct to validate your understanding. You can say something like, “That sounds really frustrating!”
  3. Set the intention for a heart to heart connection with each patient at the beginning of every conversation. It’s not enough for a patient to hear what you are saying or for you to hear what they are saying. True connection occurs when what is said begins in the speaker’s heart and ends in the listener’s heart.
  4. Don’t judge. Be respectful. Remember that each person comes to their current opinions and circumstances honestly, through their own unique set of experiences and influencers. If a patient feels like a provider is being judgmental or critical, he or she may very likely not return for additional services. This unfortunate scenario is often at the root of poor reviews.
  5. Deliver bad news or unwelcome advice with a caring tone. Sometimes healthcare providers must give scary news such as unwanted diagnoses or a treatment plan that sounds worse than the symptoms currently occurring. It is especially important at these times to acknowledge a patient’s doubts, fears, or concerns with empathy. You could say something like, “I know this sounds like a lot, but I believe it to be the best path forward for your health. This is because….”

Clarity matters.

People go to health and wellness providers for three main reasons: to understand why they are having symptoms, to get advice and treatment for alleviating those symptoms, and to prevent unwanted symptoms from recurring or from happening in the first place. Here are some simple guidelines to follow for communicating clearly in each of these circumstances:

  1. Speak clearly, slowly, and loudly enough for clients to hear and understand you. If you speak with an accent, people may have trouble understanding you. Acknowledge this at the beginning of your conversation and tell clients it’s okay to interrupt if they don’t understand. Without you giving them this permission many people will not feel comfortable interrupting you. They see you in a position of authority and will often pretend to understand when they don’t. If they leave an appointment with incomplete or inaccurate information, however, they are putting their health at risk.
  2. Use simple vocabulary and offer analogies to break down complex or confusing topics. Then ask to make sure they understand what you have just said.
  3. Explain medical and industry-specific terms or acronyms as you introduce them – don’t assume clients know what they mean. Be prepared to explain why you are doing what you are doing and how you expect it to be of benefit at any point before, during, or after giving care. Your patients have a right to know.
  4. Provide clear written post-appointment instructions (clear both in handwriting and in language) for your clients. Over-communication when it comes to health is always a best practice.
  5. Being able to communicate clearly also conveys confidence, knowledge, and professionalism, which clients desire in a provider.

Listening, showing empathy, and communicating clearly in your practice are the skills at the heart of a good bedside manner. What follows are trusted relationships with your patients and clients, a strong reputation as a caring professional, and increased business as a result.

Helen Moses is a voice, speech, and communication expert with over 30 years of combined experience as a singer, speech-language pathologist, and public speaker. In 2013 she founded Speak Up Communications, where she helps her clients leverage their voices to connect with others and maximize their impact.

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