How To Be Your Patient’s Hero: Listen.

I don’t know about you, but I have a big problem listening to patients. I mean real listening.

Our daily workload increases all the time, our days become more and more procedure- and action-focused.

Over the years I’ve gotten more and more effective in getting things done. I am totally focused on my stuffed to-do-list and listening closely to a patient rarely is on it.

Rarely do I ask an open-ended question and just wait for the patient to talk for a little while. Usually I just ask for complaints, 1-2 minutes of closed-ended questions and I am off to the next task.

And the reasons for that are various:

Listening to patients per se doesn’t

  • accomplish anything,
  • bring any money,
  • solve any problems,
  • mark anything off of our to-do-list.

When I listen -really listen- I  get impatient easily. Thoughts like these come to my mind:

  • OK, I know where he’s going, let’s get to the point.
  • This problem doesn’t matter.
  • Instead of listening to this irrelevant information I could solve real problems.

But listening to things that are important to the patient is of enormous value.

The patient knows: my point came across.

For some reason he had a desire to share this information with me

  • on what his doctor told him twenty years ago
  • on what he felt after switching from omeprazole to pantoprazole
  • that his back itches every time he takes a bath.

And yes, medically speaking, this information didn’t bring me ANY value. There is nothing that I’ll do differently now: no examination I’ll order, no other treatment-plan. Medically: no value, pretty much a waste of time. But: the patient knows: This doctor took this seriously. All the others didn’t care. He listened to the end, he didn’t interrupt me, didn’t tell me that this is unimportant: what a relief this must be for him. The patient finally got this information of his chest.

There must be a reason that human beings and even doctors have two ears and only one mouth.


Wanna be your patient’s hero? You don’t have to cure cancer.
All you have to do is: Listen.
I don’t know of anything else that improves doctor-patient-relationship any better than this.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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