Making Time to See and Appreciate Your Patients’ Perspectives

A healthcare professional is standing next to a sitting patient to show the importance of taking time to see and appreciate your patients' perspectives

When working with patients in a clinic or hospital setting, it’s critical to be able to appreciate your patients’ perspectives, even if they don’t align with your own; especially if they don’t align with your own.

Our perspective in any given situation is informed by our environment, genes, personal experiences, cultural influences, and so much more. Despite our best intentions, we see through our lens, rose-colored or otherwise.  

It can be challenging to keep personal bias out of our understanding of patient issues. When we can set ourselves aside and approach our patients with minds open to their thoughts, experiences, and feelings, we connect with them on a different level. They feel heard and our patients benefit in measurable ways.

Here are some tips for eliciting your patients’ perspectives.

Put Your Own Mask on First

It may seem counterintuitive for me to encourage you to think about yourself first, but failing to think about yourself first is what leads to burnout. Nearly 50% of physicians reported burnout in late 2020, a level that shouldn’t be surprising given the pandemic.

Long hours, too many patients, charting, insurance companies, and now a pandemic – no wonder so many physicians are feeling stressed out. Physicians are too busy, and all these responsibilities, along with the ones at home, are constantly fighting for attention.

The stress isn’t good for your health or the quality of your patient care. Errors caused by distracted healthcare providers are well documented. Your patients notice when you’re distracted. In fact, there’s a term to describe when you’re there but not genuinely present: distracted listening.

So, like the airline instruction “put your own mask on first,” physicians also need to make space to breathe before we can help others.

Counter Burnout and Improve Care with Mindfulness

Author and professor of medicine, Dr. Ronald Epstein, encourages physicians to include mindfulness as part of their practice. Physicians who practice mindfulness are more aware of their physical and mental processes during everyday tasks. This self-monitoring enables them to set aside the demands on their time and energy and listen attentively to their patients. They are more effective, patient-centered, and compassionate.

Epstein draws parallels between medicine and mindfulness and points to four mindfulness skills that are present in quality patient care:  

1. Attention

Mindfulness is a way to focus your attention so that your mind is fully involved in the moment and refuses to engage with the obsessive thoughts crowding your mind. Your brain is constantly trying to engage you! It’s not easy to let go – you’re used to multi-tasking. Learning to let go of those other thoughts and inner chatter and bring your mind back to what you’re doing and feeling in the moment makes your patient care more deliberate and patient-focused.

2. Curiosity

Physicians who foster a sense of curiosity tend to ask more questions and, in turn, gain a deeper understanding of their patient’s values, circumstances, and needs. Patients interpret this as more compassionate conversation and respond more positively.

3. Beginner’s Mind

A beginner’s mind is a way of looking at things without preconceptions, judgments, or expectations. It asks that you not be blinded by your experience when your understanding of a patient’s situation may not be complete.

4. Presence

Presence means quieting your mind and turning your focus outward to your patient. To be fully present, you must set your preconceptions aside, listen actively, withhold judgment, and resist interrupting. Being fully present reduces errors and miscommunication and helps patients feel heard.

Mindfulness Creates a Win-Win Situation

When you practice mindfulness, you’ll feel more in control of your time, more resilient, and less prone to burnout. Your patients will notice, too. Epstein found that when physicians practiced mindfulness, their patients were more likely to share personal information and be more compliant with treatment.

Let’s Talk About How to Appreciate Your Patients’ Perspectives

Practicing person-centered communication means recognizing and respecting your patient’s needs, preferences, and feelings – seeing their circumstances from their perspective. Your willingness to treat them with dignity and respect can make them feel more optimistic, save time in future visits, and increase their compliance with treatments.

Here are some tips for encouraging a patient-centered conversation:

  • Listen actively, and don’t interrupt
  • Use plain language
  • Assess their knowledge level
  • Acknowledge and encourage their sharing of information
  • Ask what they think is going on
  • Ask what they’re most concerned about
  • Ask what they’re hoping you can do about it
  • Ask questions about their feelings and health behaviors
  • Give them time to respond to your questions
  • Assess their understanding of their diagnosis and treatment
  • Walk them through procedures, and explain their medications
  • Offer them choices
  • Be patient

It’s a lot to take in. If you’re feeling stressed and heading toward burnout, you don’t need to add more to your to-do list. But implementing mindfulness into your daily practice is a long-term investment in your peace of mind. It’s also a great step toward building a more person-centered practice for your patients.

Are you interested in gaining insight and learning how to use mindfulness to fight burnout and build resilience? Has stress affected your ability to see and appreciate your patients’ perspectives? 

I work with professionals in order to improve workplace culture and foster more empathic practices. If you are ready to make a change, let’s chat. During this conversation, I will listen closely to what is going on and what you’d like to happen. Then we can explore how to move you toward your goals. Please reach out to schedule a free consultation