Practice success relies on good communication with patienbts, staff

June 1, 2006

Does the medical education system do an effective job in preparingophthalmologists for practice life?

The answer to this question needs to be considered along different dimensions. If measured by exposure to specific content for specific time periods, it is relatively easy to measure success. If, on the other hand, one wants to measure competency along more subjective measures, such as caring for patients, communicating with staff and professional colleagues, or maintaining high ethical standards, this becomes a bit more challenging.

For several years, the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education (ACGME) has identified six areas of competency in which residents are to be evaluated: medical knowledge, patient care, interpersonal and communication skills, professionalism, practice-based learning and improvement, and systems-based practice.

Having owned and run my own consulting practice for more than 20 years and having had the privilege to consult with and teach hundreds of physicians during this time, I offer some suggestions of key success factors that may make the path a little less bumpy.

Develop your communication skills.

Over the course of a lifetime, ophthalmologists conduct more than 100,000 interviews or encounters with patients and staff. Even modest improvements in communication skills can bring significant gains in the quality of patient and staff relations. The first and most important step is to show genuine concern by actively listening to their issues and concerns.

Acknowledge that you get it by asking questions and demonstrating empathy. This can be conveyed through the use of verbal and non-verbal cues. Whether you are delivering a diagnosis or resolving an in-office conflict between staff members, this investment made on the front end will improve the quality of each encounter, make you a more effective leader, and enhance your daily level of job satisfaction.

Be flexible in order to adapt to whatever comes your way.

How often does your daily life plan go awry due to some unforeseen circumstance? This can range from something mundane such as a power outage, to a schedule turned upside down due to unscheduled emergencies, a technician that calls in sick, a difficult surgical case, or an interpersonal conflict with a partner or associate. Despite your best efforts, things can and do go wrong, often at the most inopportune times. Although it is difficult to control many of these issues, we can control our reaction to them. The key is to plan well, not to overreact to adverse events, and to maintain flexibility in order to go with the flow. This can be an unnatural response for many tightly wound personalities. The people closest to you, however, would prefer and appreciate a calm, non-reactive response during difficult times.

Maintain a positive attitude.

Did you ever notice how much more enjoyable it is to be around people with a positive attitude? I see it every day in my life. Whether in my role as father, coach, consultant, mentor, or CEO, I simply like being around others who have a smile on their face, see the world from a fresh perspective, and seek solutions to problems or challenges. What I have discovered is how much influence I have on the attitude and behavior of others. You are in the same position. People look up to you and will often take their cue from your attitude, behavior, and actions.

Be a team player.

It is natural to ask why I need to be a team player when I own the team. Yes, you may be the boss or the individual with your name on the door or credential following your name. It is important, however, to see yourself as simply a part of the whole.