Becoming a better listener for the sake of your patients

July 25, 2015

In her latest blog, Donna Suter gives her advice on creating better communication with your patients.

Editor’s Note: Welcome to “Eye Catching: Let's Chat,” a blog series featuring contributions from members of the ophthalmic community. These blogs are an opportunity for ophthalmic bloggers to engage with readers with about a topic that is top of mind, whether it is practice management, experiences with patients, the industry, medicine in general, or healthcare reform. The series continues with this blog by Donna Suter, president of Suter Consulting Group. The views expressed in these blogs are those of their respective contributors and do not represent the views of  Ophthalmology Times or UBM Advanstar.

 

Can you see what I am saying?

If there is one secret to success, it lies in the ability to get to the other person’s point of view and see things from his angle as well as your own. – Henry Ford

Henry Ford is confirming that flexibility is the key to understanding another’s point of view. As an eye care provider, you know that people are more receptive to messages that are synchronous with their own orientation to speed, detail, task or relationships. It’s why it is important to adapt to each patient.

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One might perceive a quick walk to the pretest area as efficient, while another would complain about feeling rushed. The second, more Type B patient, is most comfortable walking slowly and speaking to everyone else he or she sees.

Verbally, connecting with a patient happens when the doctor and employees listen carefully to the speaker/patient’s word choices.

One of the greatest gifts you can give is attentive listening. This is only possible when you quiet your thoughts, questions, and preconceived notions.

Employees and doctors will be perceived as poor listeners when:

·      Someone says something significant and we stop listening and go off into our own thoughts to find a solution or compose a response

·      Outside distractions, such as beginning a diagnostic test or chart documentation, compete with our focus

·      We consider the information boring or repetitive, which shuts down the left hemisphere.

There are specific things you can do as a listener that will enhance your ability to stay focused. These include making eye contact and little head nods and neutral comments.

Next: Revealing patients' communication styles

 

By listening first, you will gain insights into how patients want to be treated. People tend to understand and learn more easily with information that is related in visual, auditory, or physical terminology, depending on their natural preference.  If you use similar terminology, they are more likely to see what you mean, hear what you’re saying, or get the same feeling you have.

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I see what you mean is a visual reference. Other examples of visual references include it looks like, get a clear picture, take a look at this, and see things as they are. An example of a visual-auditory crossover reference is I see what you’re saying.

In other words is an auditory reference. Other auditory references include it sounds like, I hear you, and you can tell that. An auditory-dominate person will use phrases like these when trying to get a visual or physical person to hear what is being said.

I get the sense that… is a physical reference. Other physical (also called kinesthetic) references are get a feel for…, go through the motions, gut feeling, struggling with, steps in the process, and closer to an agreement.

Because each patient has a preference, listening allows the eye care professional to connect by adapting his or her word choices to patients. This is important because human behavior specialists’ research reveals that 54% of the population will resist change. What this means to eye care providers is that taking the time to synchronize word choices will result in happy patients and an increase in optical sales.

There are several ways to get the patient to reveal his or her communication style.

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1.     Ask open questions (beginning with “how” and “what”) to find out what they are expecting. What do you like most about your current eyewear?  Or What do you like least about your current eyewear?

2.     Be informative when having to adapt to a patient by using specific words with numbers and percentages instead of saying words like: better, easier, and faster. Mrs. Smith, your prescription has changed a quarter of a diopter. What this means to you is that updating your spectacle lenses will mean an improvement in your vision. The doctor has also indicated that she is monitoring a small cataract in your left eye. I suggest using your vision plan benefits to upgrade to no-glare lenses. The no-glare feature will minimize the vision changes caused by the small cataract. Your new blue-light, no-glare lens will prevent light from coming in at different wavelengths and from different directions– in other words, it will minimize reflections.

Next: Flexibility, while tough, is crucial

 

Your lenses will lower what is called "residual reflections,” which any spectacle lens still has in spite of an anti-reflective coating. Instead of the color green, which is usually used in many conventional spectacle lenses to minimize these residual reflections, blue will be selected. Because of its different color wavelength, this reduces the residual reflection by 20 percent more than conventional spectacle lenses with a green residual reflection. What this means to you, is you will be seeing better while you wait for cataract surgery. Mrs. Smith, what questions do you have about how this lenses technology eliminates glare?

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3.Tell me about your most visually challenging situation. This open-ended sentence is a good listening question that allows your optician to combine the doctor’s recommendations for spectacle lenses options with the patient’s biggest acuity problem.

Adapting and being flexible is toughest when faced with a “no.” When a patient tells you no, acknowledge their response and then ask “What are the reasons”? It is human nature to defend our recommendations. A more collaborative approach is to be more flexible when listening to others and listening with an open mind.