Being Persona Non Grata

Last week, I was a patient.  I was brought to an exam room and interviewed by a friendly nurse with a great bedside manner.  She introduced herself, showed her human side, and then left me alone in the room, with the door slightly ajar.  Shortly after that, another medical staff person entered the room and walked straight to the computer monitor before she realized that I was sitting in the room.  “Oh, I didn’t think anyone was in here!” she exclaimed, and then quickly left the room.  What I felt was a sense of invisibility – I was sitting in a room, but certainly was not a person of any importance.  I winced, mostly because I realize that I do the same thing.

There are times when I mistakenly enter an exam room, thinking that my patient is waiting inside, only to find a patient I don’t recognize who is waiting for another provider.  I quickly apologize and leave the room, sorry to have “bothered” the waiting patient.  In truth, I am the one who is bothered. I have a busy schedule and the person I was expecting isn’t where I expected them to be.  As I know now, the patient in the room is most likely left feeling confused and somehow “wrong.”  How much better would they feel if, instead, I apologized and took the opportunity to ask them if they were comfortable, or if I could get them anything while they waited?

As we rush through our frequently over-scheduled days, it’s easy to forget these simple human touches.  But each time we can bring ourselves to see the person in front of us and respond in a kind and thoughtful way, we have an opportunity to forge a meaningful connection that enhances our patient’s experience and our own personal satisfaction.

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About Helane Fronek

Over the past 28 years I have had a fascinating and fulfilling career in medicine, initially practicing as a general internist and then as a procedural specialist, caring for patients with vein disorders. As Assistant Clinical Professor of Medicine at UC- San Diego School of Medicine, I’m thrilled to be teaching medical students crucial communication skills along with many other aspects involved in the practice of medicine.
This entry was posted in building relationship with patients, effective communication in healthcare, first impressions, physician coach, physician coaching, physician communication and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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