Our health has spiritual, psychological, and physical components. It remains a crucial question: in medical practice, how do we harmonise and nurture all these essential elements of a patient’s health?
One of the most important elements of a successful treatment outcome is building an outstanding level of patient rapport. No matter how extensive our knowledge on a certain condition or the treatment approach, it is to understand and connect with our patients that is the driving force. This is essential if we want to create long lasting positive case management outcomes.
In my experience it begins with effective and meaningful communication, both verbal and non-verbal. This builds trust and gives the patient a sense of safety and wellbeing while in your care.
Language is not just words or sentences; it is body movement, gestures and tone of voice. The emotions we feel are often unconsciously expressed in our behaviours and gestures.
John Napier’s quote captures this perfectly – “If language was given to men to conceal their thoughts, then gesture’s purpose was to disclose them.”
I consider it invaluable for all practitioners in our industry to take the time and effort to train, understand and appreciate how to get the most out of their exchanges. Be mindful of the messages that you convey without words.
In this space, there is a key set of tools, which I employ with each patient to build and maintain the relationship. These tools are: active listening, empathy, considered verbal, and non verbal language, self-reflection and awareness.
Active listening acknowledges time and space for your patient to tell their story. The more genuine, engaged and interested you are in hearing their story, the more relaxed, comfortable and safe your patient will feel. This, in turn encourages them to open up – allowing valuable insight into their holistic health.
Employing empathy/non judgment forms another fundamental tool. Many types of personalities will walk through that door into your clinic room, where you suddenly find yourselves alone with each other in a more intimate setting. Some of them might be challenging, skeptical, ignorant, overactive, wanting to please, overbearing or simply be negative. As a health practitioner, we must act in the best interest of our profession and our patient and utilising empathy is very much a part of this.
Personally, I continuously reflect on my own intentions and check on my actions. I take great care in addressing the person in my room. I have a tendency to be caring, compassionate and respectful. However, I am professional at all times and this is a delicate balance. This approach is to be maintained throughout the entire process of interaction with a patient (including the treatment) – especially when touching patients. This is particularly important when working with children.
I have trained my body to reflect my emotions. Therefore, over time my body language has become (almost unconsciously) fine tuned to support effective rapport building. My posture is usually tall and confident with shoulders back, but never domineering. I maintain eye contact with a soft gaze unless my patient becomes uncomfortable, in which case, I simply mirror their preferences.
I minimise hand/arm gestures and tend to use them only very deliberately and purposefully as I have found it often helps to describe some of the basic philosophy of Chinese medicine. Sometimes, I support this through the use of drawings or charts to help my patient gain a better understanding of how I am using Chinese medicine to improve their health. It is intrinsic that this fosters a closer level of rapport as they feel informed, included and reassured.
Speech should always be clear and kept to a moderate pace to ensure your patient can follow your explanations. If they are confused, go back one step and make sure you get them on the same page. Always ask if they have questions or need more information on a topic you may have touched on in the consultation.
It is natural that some patients want to talk more, others less. Some like to be fully informed of the details of what you are doing, other don’t want to know anything. Respect each individual’s preference and really tune into their body, brain and their unique disposition – that which I like to refer to as their ‘soul aspect’.
It is magic when two people meet on a level that reignites our humanity and connectedness. We can do this every day by building a strong and meaningful rapport with our patients and ultimately create better and longer lasting therapeutic outcomes as a result.