Administration and Leadership, Columns, Patient Care

Nine Tips for Making a Good Impression with Your Patient

Issue 10 and Volume 42.

Making a good first impression is essential to establishing positive rapport with your patient. Within the first few seconds of that encounter, most patients will make a value judgment about whether they like you and whether they think you’re competent to care for them.
You don’t get a second chance to make a great first impression!

Studies show that people, including patients, are most likely to remember the beginning and the end of an encounter. This is called the “serial positioning effect.”

That’s why, in addition to a positive first impression, a positive ending encounter with the patient is also very important. Taking a moment or two to say goodbye to the patient and thank them for the opportunity to be of service leaves them with a positive impression of you.

With the serial positioning effect, the things that happen in the middle of an encounter tend to be a “blur,” and details are often forgotten.

From a risk management standpoint, that can be very good. It means that if you’re nice to the patient when arriving on scene and nice to them when you leave, the patient is likely to forget about the bumps (i.e., mistakes) that may have occurred in the middle-like that IV you missed! Typically, patients won’t sue you if they like you-even if you do
make mistakes.

Here are nine tips for making a good first impression that will set the stage for a positive interaction with the patient-and reduce the risk of a lawsuit:

1. Recharge yourself. Take a deep breath before you enter the situation to clear your mind and to be ready to focus on the patient. Tell yourself you’re going to make the patient feel better about the situation they’re in.

2. Check your breath. As obvious as this is, bad breath can turn people off and sets up a barrier to communication. Always carry gum and mints and use them.

3. Have a confident physical approach. Move with purpose; look like you want to get to where you’re going. Stand up straight with a confident gait as you approach the room. Start looking at faces to assess the situation and use a positive, clear tone of voice when speaking.

4. Look them in the eye. Focus on the patient. It helps you assess their emotions. It will also allow you to detect subtle changes in emotion, pain levels and distress.

5. Make an immediate introduction. Make sure you introduce yourself; explain who you are and why you’re there. Avoid using clichés like “honey,” “sweetie,” or “buddy” when
speaking to the patient. Ask the patient if it’s okay to call them by their first name. Acknowledge family members, too; they may have valuable information about the patient’s past and present medical history that can help you.

6. Smile. A warm smile relaxes the other person. Smiling and maintaining good eye contact immediately upon approaching the patient demonstrates a sincere willingness to help. It also conveys that you’re approachable and may encourage the patient to talk to you.

Studies show that even forcing yourself to smile can have positive physiological effects and help you with your own stress levels.

7. Use appropriate touch. Patients are often anxious, distressed and in pain. They need reassurance that you recognize their anxiety. A gentle touch conveys that you’re sensitive to and understand their concern.

8. Engage in some small talk. Nonmedical gestures and questions can help relieve patient anxiety. Commenting positively on the patient’s family members, the dog or cat, or other things you observe in the room shows that you have an interest in the patient and can help take the patient’s mind off their distress. When your patient’s stress is managed, it’s easier for you to assess and treat them.

9. Always be attentive and courteous. Paying attention to the patient and being courteous at all times makes the patient feel that they’re the center of attention. Using active listening skills can aid in the communications process.

Always be courteous to the patient, even if the patient isn’t courteous to you. As healthcare professionals, we should never let the patient’s poor demeanor negatively affect how we treat them.