Interpersonal Communication

Medic 999 posting an interesting “fictional” case over at his blog, and I wanted to take a moment to share a few quick tips to seem a little less apathetic than his fictional medic.

1. Talk to the patient first. If the patient can talk and is competent, s/he is always be the best historian.

2. Use reflective listening. Restate what the patient is saying every so often. For example, “So you have been treated for abdominal pain like this before, what made it better in the past? Ok, so you normally receive morphine at the hospital.

This does two major things. First, if you’re trying to figure out the next thing to do, it buys some time. Second, and most importantly, it let’s the patient know that you’re listening to them and that you aren’t just running down a checklist for the sake of a the checklist.

3. Empathy. We’ve all been in pain. We’ve all had abdominal pain, but even if we haven’t suffered that specific aliment, we can all figure out what 8/10 pain feels like. A quick, “I’m sorry that you’re in pain and we’ll do everything we can to get you the care you need,” or (if your exam or treatment may increase or cause pain), “I know that this is going to hurt and I’m going to go as gently as possible, but I have to take a look or feel that area (e.g. abdominal exams in tender patients).”

4. Explain exam findings as you go.

5. Finally, introduce yourself and start with an open ended question. “Hi, my name is Joe Paczkowski and I’ll be your EMT today. What can I help you with today?” In the end, medicine is about helping others.

It doesn’t take much to not act like a robot, and it will go a long way to putting your patients at ease that the professionals have arrived and the emergency is over.

About Joe Paczkowski

I am an EMT and a second year medical student at Western University of Health Sciences, College of Osteopathic Medicine of the Pacific (COMP).
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