We live in a very busy world and we are continuously being distracted.  If it wasn’t enough that our thoughts are being interrupted with an ad on TV or on a billboard, we can now thank our smart phones for making us, well, not that smart.  We are constantly checking our phones for text messages or for emails, or for a cute puppy photograph.

So, now you have a patient that has a serious problem and as you enter the treatment room, you see the patient reading his or her texts.  Do you really wonder why this patient doesn’t follow your instructions?

The real problem didn’t begin in the treatment room.  It started from the moment they entered your office.  You see, research has found that a person’s average attention span is around 20 minutes.  For you, doctor, this means the time they entered the office, checked in, entered the treatment room and left the building. 

We know it is usually impossible to get the patient’s out of the door within 20 minutes, especially new ones.  So what can you do inside the treatment room, to keep your patient’s attention? Remember: the longer the wait the faster the mind will drift.  Now, the attention span will be a lot less if the patient has ADD or if a mom comes in with her five children and trying to keep them from killing one another. 

When you enter the treatment room, get the patient’s attention

Introduce yourself to the patient and let them know they came to the right place.  Ask a few quick questions about themselves, like their occupation and activities they like to partake. Don’t start babbling a whole bunch of nifty 25 dollar words that they can’t understand. 

I am assuming the assistant took a complete history before you entered the room and all necessary preliminary tests were done, even before you saw the patient.  For example, x-rays were done or a set-up for an ultrasound or a minor procedure was performed.  If this is the case, all you have to do now is to examine the patient and review the problem with the patient. 

Next, you should have a treatment option sheet. 

This is a sheet with all the possible treatments available to the patient.  Circle the ones you will be doing that day and explain the purpose of each treatment. 

Look the patient in the eyes.  

You can tell if the patient’s mind is drifting or if they understand what you are saying by looking at them.  At this time perform all the treatments an assistant can’t do, then, have your assistant finish the job.  However, before you leave the room, hand the patient some handouts that explain everything you just said.  Then ask the patient if they have any questions.  Then tell them the importance of their next appointment and what you will be doing at that time.

Remember, if a patient is waiting too long to be seen, their mind will drift.  In addition, if your explanations are too verbose, their attention span will lessen.  The result will then be a patient who will probably not return to their next appointment and/or will not refer others to your clinic.


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