In the Broadway musical Fiddler on the Roof Tevye asks his wife, Golde, that very important question:
“Do you love me?”
Golde replies: “Do I love you?
For twenty-five years I’ve washed your clothes
Cooked your meals, cleaned your house
Given you children, milked the cow
After twenty-five years, why talk about love right now?”
We all assume that our actions speak louder than our words – that certain things we do express our sentiments and intentions. But is this true?
I would argue that it is not.
Just as Tevye, after 25 years, needed to hear the words to confirm that Golde’s actions reflected her love, our patients derive tremendous benefit from our words, as does our relationship with them.
When seeing a patient in the ED, we pull the curtain because we want to insure our patient’s privacy. Our patient may completely miss this intention and would certainly benefit from the knowledge that her physician is caring and thoughtful enough to be concerned about that.
When we ask our patient to return for a follow-up visit after a procedure or an illness, it is usually because we want to diagnose a potential complication as soon as possible or make sure that our patient is responding to our treatment and improving. Our patient might consider this extra visit a nuisance, a ploy on our part to generate more income, or not important enough to follow up on. Telling him why we want to see him helps him understand what we are concerned about, that he is important to us and that his welfare is uppermost in our minds.
So pay attention to the many things you do while caring for your patients and ask yourself why you do them. Share those motivations with your patients as you go about your day, and ask your office staff to demonstrate this behavior as well.
While injecting a local anesthetic, inform your patient that you are doing this so the procedure won’t hurt as much. Let her be aware of your kindness.
When your receptionist schedules a patient’s follow up appointment, she might say, “Dr. Smith wants to see you in a week to make sure that you are healing well.” A minor adjustment to the usual scheduling statement that conveys a message of caring and conscientiousness.
Letting your patients know the things you do on their behalf may pave the way for better communication, as it gives them confidence in you and helps them trust you. They see you as someone who not only understands their needs but takes them seriously enough to go out of your way to accommodate them.