Human Connection Skill Series: Knowing Your Patient

When a caregiver enters the exam room, they have no way of knowing the many layers of their patient’s life story. But as leaders in healthcare, we’re tasked with helping our teams build quick rapport–and one of the ways clinicians can do that is through getting to know their patients. 

When I think of why this matters, I think of my dad, and his experiences navigating healthcare at the end of his life.  When looking at him, a new caregiver would have first noted his sunken cheeks, wobbly gait, and regular cough. But as his daughter, I knew that perspective wasn’t revealing the complete picture. 

Three Tips for Teaching Your Teams to Connect with Patients

Everybody has a story. When your teams know the stories of their patients, they’ll perform better and they’ll feel better.

For example, it was helpful for my dad’s care teams to realize that as the eldest child of immigrant parents and a military veteran, he was predisposed to an independent mindset.

We know that higher patient activation scores, for example, lead to better outcomes for patients. So in this case, the ability of his care team to leverage that independence, rather than seeing it as an obstacle, had the power to improve his quality of care.

Encourage your teams to understand  their patients’ backgrounds 

Training your clinicians to ask simple questions like, “What else?” can open a world of possibilities for learning about their home life and past experiences. 

For example, my dad’s “What else?” would have been the fact that he had ten children and had become deeply organized as a result. This would have helped a care team understand his disposition toward care coordination and getting all of the boxes checked throughout his care.

Help them learn what matters to their patients

When care teams learn patients’ passions, the human connection thrives. With 30% of patients reporting a lack of respect from their care teams, teaching your care teams to implement more eye contact and active listening skills to get to this information could mean the difference between households choosing your organization as the place to receive care or going elsewhere.

In my dad’s case, this meant learning about the way he valued working with his hands through gardening and helping manage our hectic household. He valued personal autonomy and collaborative relationships, wisely advising us kids through many important life decisions. When his caregivers understood this about my dad, they were instantly positioned to ensure compliance to his care plan and collaboration throughout the care process.

Teach teams to assess their patients’ healthcare knowledge

Caregivers must know how their patients comprehend their own health issues. When my dad’s health issues emerged in the 1990s, he used the then-new Internet as a resource  to research and prepare for discussions with his doctor.

In fact, he took things one step further and faxed his handwritten health observations to his physician’s nurse, who was always complimentary of his consistent involvement, a feather in my dad’s cap that forged a special connection between the two of them.

One method we often share with care teams is the ever-popular “Teach-Back Method,” where clinicians ask patients to recite their care plan back to them in their own words to assess their level of understanding.

Human Connection Skills Matter and Your Teams Can Build Them

My dad passed away over twenty years ago, and the memories of the respectful care he received by many caregivers during his health challenges  bring me and my family much comfort.

Patients with life stories such as my dad’s are the patients our teams encounter every day. For every caregiver who pauses their jam packed schedule to connect to the individual in front of them, patient loyalty is increased and healthcare is forever improved.

I look forward to seeing that impact come to life at the individual level, as Mary, my daughter, continues her journey as a new-to-the-profession nurse. It’s our hope that she’ll always use each patient’s uniqueness as her compass in how she delivers care. Her grandpa would be so very proud!

At the end of the day, this is why we care. The stories of patients we connect with on a human level are not only what improves outcomes for our organizations, but they’re what make the hard days worth it. With that in mind–we’d love to hear from you too! What stories do you have of the connections you’ve built, or supported your teams in building, with patients? Feel free to share them on our LinkedIn.



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