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During a patient interview, making the best possible use of your time and establishing rapport are key. If your patient doesn’t feel heard, they will shut down and your opportunity to gain valuable information can be lost. Managing your time properly and exercising good communication skills will help you to gather the clues you need to learn about a patient’s symptoms, understand how they’re responding to medication and treatment, and identify potential problems before they become emergencies. Here are three tips for conducting a productive patient interview.

1. Update History Before the Appointment

If at all possible, have someone from your office contact your patient before their appointment. Ask patients to bring in a list of any concerns or complaints to the interview, and make sure your office personnel takes down any new issues. Have this visible to serve as a trigger for your conversation with your patient.

Studying up on patient’s new concerns will allow you to start a trail of data. Illnesses leave clues, but if you don’t have time to hear the story, you will struggle to find the answer and may wind up referring the patient to a specialist for a visit they didn’t need.

This gathering of history is a good time to collect some basic data as well. Encourage the staff to make the call to do their best to find out the basics. You need to know the

  • dietary habits
  • activity level
  • risky behaviors

of your patients, and this information can be hard to share face to face. A phone interview before your appointment may make your patient a bit bolder.

2. Don’t Disrupt the Interview by Stopping to Take Notes

During your face to face conversation with your patient, don’t take notes. Keep your patient at a comfortable eye-level throughout the interview and communicate directly. Let them tell their story, record the conversation, and use a medical transcriptionist to provide you with a written narrative of the entire conversation.

By reviewing the whole story that your patient shares with you, you can start to determine the source of their concern. A properly transcribed patient interview will give you the chance to take notes; remember to note things like the patient dropping eye contact, any faltering, or signs of confusion.

Using a transcriber gives you time to enter the patient’s symptoms into your mental computer. Not only do you hear their responses, but you also get to read them back as well. With this format, you can feed your problem-solving, diagnostic brain from both the visual and audio side, constructing a narrative you can study from all angles.

3. Use Your Follow-up Conversation to Build Rapport

When you’ve reviewed the nurse-patient communication fully from multiple directions, schedule a follow-up conversation to discuss some of the points that came up during your interview. Even if you’re only meeting over the phone, the follow-up can

  • Increase a patient’s willingness to provide you with more detailed information
  • Increase their trust in you
  • Encourage them to share more in subsequent conversations

One of the few constants among people of all age groups is that those who don’t feel heard stop talking. Worse, they may stop listening before they stop talking. If you’re frustrated with patients who don’t take sound medical advice, be aware that you may be dealing with a patient who’s felt left out of their own healthcare for years.

Is that your fault? Probably not, but it is now your problem. Poor communication will result if you’re only allowed 15 minutes to discuss something that’s hurt for 30 years.

The lack of confidence in the scientific community stems from a lack of understanding of the scientific method. Observing, asking, and data gathering is what the patient interview is for. Your interview will produce more and better quality data when a patient doesn’t feel rushed and isn’t worried that they’re wasting your time if they need to talk longer. The more time you can make for the interview, the greater your chances of uncovering valuable information and providing your patients with the care they deserve.


Regina Thomas
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