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Positively Beautiful: How to be a ‘dream doctor’

Every year, big research firms like Gallup roll out new statistics about “patient satisfaction.”

Some of the numbers are encouraging: Seventy-two percent of Americans who have health insurance are “satisfied” with the U.S. health care system. Not too shabby!

Others are a bit depressing: Ninety-seven percent of patients are frustrated by long wait times.

The unfortunate reality is that many physicians are overworked and overscheduled, which makes it difficult to go “above and beyond” for every patient on the docket.

I know, all too well, that when you’re rushing from appointment to appointment, it can be tough to remember to ask yourself: “How could I give my next patient the BEST possible experience?”

It’s tough, but still doable. Even on the most challenging days, we can all strive to do better.

Whether your medical practice is receiving positive feedback, negative feedback or a grab bag of mixed responses, there is always room for improvement.

Here’s my take on how what we can do to improve patient satisfaction and become every patient’s “dream doctor.” And feel free to share this with your doctor.

1. Express genuine care and concern. As the communication expert Kare Anderson once said, “People like people who like them.”

The way you move, touch, talk and, most importantly, listen, should convey to your patient, “I like you. I care about you. I want you to have the life and level of health that you deserve.”

Don’t forget to smile, make eye contact and treat human beings like – human beings.

2. Acknowledge progress. I know personally how hard it is to make changes. When your patient has made good progress, even just a baby step or two, acknowledge it!

“I can tell you’ve been using sunscreen, just like we talked about. Great job!”

“You seem calm and happy today. I can tell your new stress-management regime is paying off.”

“You’ve lost 10 pounds since our last visit. I’m so proud of you!”

As Earl Nightingale once wrote, “Children bloom like spring flowers under praise.”

The same is true for adults. Find something to celebrate.

3. Anticipate overwhelm. Your patients aren’t physicians. They don’t have the same training and vocabulary as you.

So even if you think what you’re explaining is “simple,” to your patient, it might be the most confusing thing they’ve heard all year.

Anticipate feelings of overwhelm, give written handouts whenever possible, and say to your patient: “Would you like to record these instructions on your smartphone? That way, you’ll be able to listen to my instructions again later. I know that it can be difficult to remember everything on your own. I’ve been in those kinds of situations, too.”

4. Be willing to keep trying. For a patient, there’s nothing as disappointing or scary as a physician who has “given up.”

If you can’t make a diagnosis or if the patient isn’t responding to your treatment, seek help. Keep trying.

“I want to get a second pair of eyes to make sure I’m not overlooking any possibilities. I’ve invited my colleague to step in. She’s wonderful. Together, I’m confident that we’re going to make progress.”

5. Make “easy changes” first. Improving patient satisfaction doesn’t always require big, systemic changes.

It can be as simple as adding free Wi-Fi to the waiting room (a move that 60 percent of patients say would make them very happy). My 6-year-old son is always checking for free Wi-Fi whenever we are out so he can download games on his iPod. He will be happy that we now have it in our reception area!

We bring in fresh flowers at the check-in desks (unscented, so they don’t bother our allergy patients), and patients love the Keurig coffee maker and water.

Start with a few “easy changes” – then move on to bigger overhauls.

We will keep trying to do better with wait times and communicate when things are running behind. And compassion, courtesy, little human touches, a willingness to keep trying – and yes, free Wi-Fi – can go a long way, too.

Check back next week, when I’ll explore the flip-side of this conversation: How to be every doctor’s “dream patient.”