Patient interactions – an interesting view


Category : Medical Rants

I really like Abigail Zuger’s writing in the NY Times. She clearly has the gift for personalizing topics related to the doctor patient relationship. Today’s essay – How a Spoonful of Sugar Helps the Medicine Go Down

Instead of quoting from the article, I will provide my own thoughts. As I have written before, my favorite question for patients (usually I ask this after the present medical history) is, “What do you do for fun?”. This is both a depression screening question (in my opinion the highest yield when you do not expect depression) and a way to connect with the patient. Once I know what the patient enjoys, I have a safe place to go for small talk. Small talk is important.

Some would say that Southerners expect small talk even more than those in other parts of the country. Few business meetings start in the South without some chatter unrelated to the business at hand.

Working in the hospital, I have learned to quickly (and usually successfully) figured out how to develop the proper relationship with each patient. Some like the diversion of small talk; others want to only focus on business.

As Dr. Zuger understands, she can say some things that I cannot, merely as a result of gender. So I stick to topics like sports, fishing, trips, grandchildren, etc.

Small talk is not a diversion, but a way of making both sides of the interaction more personal. When I start to understand the context of the person, I believe I am much better able to help them. Likewise, unlike some physicians, I have no problem in sharing appropriate parts of my life with patients, e.g. sports teams I root for, my love for golf, a movie I saw.

Please read Dr. Zuger’s essay – it is well worth your time.

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