In a world where practitioner responsibilities are being assumed by digital tools, patient interviewing is taking on new shapes and roles within a medical practice. While many of the conventional methods of developing patient connections remain valid, new perspectives allow for a more fruitful patient-practitioner relationship. Innovative interview techniques gather needed information while creating an environment that feels collaborative.
The challenge of an interview is to remain professional while keeping the patient engaged. They may teach patient interviewing in medical school but it is a lifelong skill. Consider how you can address both the substance and style of the patient interview. If you do not typically conduct patient interviews in your practice but want to improve the patient experience, share this with the colleague who does.
1. Show Humility
There is an inherent power imbalance between a doctor and a patient, leaving some patients on guard even when they need help. Humility can help patients be less reserved.
Real, authentic humility comes naturally to some, but others have to work at it. That doesn’t mean these individuals suffer from a lack of humility but may, at times, struggle to convey it to patients.
Ways to demonstrate humility as a practitioner can range from tone of voice and body position to question style and active listening. Humility isn’t something you demonstrate once, it requires consistency and can take a lifetime to get right.
2. Open a Dialogue
Whether you are a journalist, a hiring manager, or a practitioner performing a patient intake, interviews are a powerful opportunity to establish working relationships. Great interviewers make a patient interview more conversational.
While great conversion is an art, there are a few simple steps to help make sure your interviews with patients are a constructive dialogue.
- Take your time
- Reiterate and reflect back
- Wait your turn
- Summarize at the end
In other words, demonstrating patience, asking follow-up questions, and mirroring your patient’s emotions can signal you are mindful of the patient’s needs and interested in what they feel. Doing this well within the context of established patient interview techniques can be challenging. Practitioners must be willing to deviate and get creative when appropriate.
These techniques are not only important to get the information you need and create a good patient relationship, but also to a patient’s long-term health. With the emergence of evidence-based clinical perspectives, a patient’s personal goals, and values are more important than ever during treatment.
3. Have Empathy
At one time, empathy was more or less a buzzword in medical circles. Now, empathy is considered integral to patient care. Why? With the emotional connection empathy engenders, practitioners can demonstrate to patients they have their best interests at heart. Empathy is a documented means of increasing a patient’s outlook, facilitating better outcomes by influencing patient compliance and mood.
While empathy isn’t an exact science, there are established steps you can take to demonstrate more empathy to your patients.
- Humanize your patient
- Avoid judgment
- Show support
4. Remember Why You Are There
Practitioners are there to serve the patient. The patient must be made to feel comfortable when sharing deeply personal information.
Success in healthcare is defined by patient outcomes. Patient outcomes are dictated by a variety of factors including treatment compliance, positive outlook, and follow-up appointment attendance. All of these can be impacted by a positive emotional connection between the patient and practitioner.
5. Master Interviewing Techniques
The patient interview is an important part of medical education and a lifelong skill. Two common interview models studied by practitioners in medical schools are the problem oriented interview and the health promotion interview. The health promotion perspective targets risk factors for disease with a goal of promoting overall health.
Empathy, active listening, and demonstrating humility are important for this interview technique because they require establishing trust with the patient who you will likely ask to take a proactive approach to their health. Problem oriented interviews can require open-ended questioning to tease out the full scope of symptoms and start identifying root causes.
Practitioners often modify the standard patient interview as their practice evolves. Becoming more common is the evidence-based interview model that emphasizes the unique values and personality of a patient. Smith’s 5-step patient-centered method includes techniques such as
- Indicating how much time you have
- Setting an agenda
- Obtaining data from nonverbal cues
- Starting with an open-ended, care-related questions