The old adage that we all know is that there is never an opportunity to make a second first impression. And to top it off, that first impression is formed in the first seconds of meeting someone new, in fact, studies show that it is in the first seven seconds. The human mind is conditioned to make snap decisions about others and when it comes to patients meeting physicians for the first time, you are being judged for competence and friendliness. Are you good what you do, should I trust you, and will I be comfortable speaking openly with you?
Changing first impressions takes much more time and effort, and as we each know about ourselves, it is difficult to come back from a bad first impression.
With so much riding on the first impression, some pointers, hopefully, reminders, about things that you should be doing when meeting that new patient, or meeting again with an existing patient.
- Smile: The first thing noticed is your face, what does it say? Yours should be a welcoming smile, conveying friendliness. The arms folded is off-putting.
- Introduce yourself: Believe it or not, some physicians have gotten into the bad habit of immediately launching into questions about the patient’s needs and condition, evening moving to start the examination without a simple; “Hello I am Dr x. And put offer your hand to be shaken.
- Make eye contact: maintain constant eye contact for the first few seconds. Don’t glance at them as if they are secondary to the test result in your hand. It shows that you are ging them your undivided attention.
- Ask permission: After the initial question and answers as to the patient’s condition, ask permission to examine them. “Ok, may I be examining you”, or whatever body part. This is a statement that allows the patient to feel empowered. They control whether or not you are going to touch them.
- Posture: You may be rushed, you may be hurried, you may be a tense form that last phone call, but you have to train yourself to appear calm and present. Stand upright and confident.
Another old adage is “he’s a great physician but has a lousy bedside manner” is far too prevalent a description of physicians of their patient. Yes, they are able to see through the bad first impression, but clearly, there is something missing in the patient-physician relationship. Such a reputation is not one that attracts new patients, and actually, one that inhibits good communications.
Your job set one, is to create an environment where there are trust and an openness to communications. The patient needs to feel that they are not an interruption of your day and that they can tell you about their needs, and fears. Such patients are better listeners, and their listening, as well as their speaking, are important for a good outcome.
The advent of patient ratings, whether online or tied to bonus or compensation programs makes developing a good first impression increasingly important for you and your practice.
These are just three brief things you can do to make a great first impression that says you are a friendly, caring and competent physician. Even for a highly educated professional like a doctor, you cannot escape the laws of human nature and behavior, and you can have a list of publications as long as your arm — but it will come to naught if you don’t understand how to communicate.
Think about the first several seconds you meet someone.