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June 25, 2008
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Mastering the fundamentals of patient communication
By J. Alan Lovejoy, DC, LCP

A frequent question from students attending seminars and meetings is, "What can I do now to prepare myself to become the successful chiropractor I want to become?" The first step to developing these abilities is to try and practice a fundamental set of skills. Some of these skills such as patient examination and adjusting skills we are required to learn and practice. However, we sometimes get so busy we forget doctor/patient communication skills. It isn’t what you say; it’s how you say it or how what you say is perceived.

One example of how doctors and patients may communicate is through a report of findings. Just like adjusting or doing a patient examination, communicating the results of an evaluation is a fundamental skill. You might ask, "How do I develop the skill set I need to do communicate after an evaluation?" The answer is to practice. Pair up in groups or with a friend and role play. This will build your confidence and help you find a format that fits you. Before we begin will you agree to practice? Yes! Great! Let’s start.

Proficiency in presenting the results of an evaluation is important. This proficiency will help build a good doctor/patient relationship, establish you as the expert and show the patient that you care. A patient doesn’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.

There are basic 4 questions, post-evaluation, which need to be answered:

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1. What is wrong with me?
2. Can you help me?
3. How long will it take?
4. How much is it going to cost?

Regardless of the system you choose - a patient take-home folder system or a basic pre-planned outline - make sure you address those 4 basic questions.

There are a few things to consider in preparing the results for your patient:
1. Try to limit yourself to a 10-15 minute timeframe.
2. Keep it simple and to the point.
3. Use an outline or a system which will keep you focused.
4. Use terms a patient will understand.
5. Do not be overly technical.
6. Be sure the patient knows what to expect from you.
7. Be sure the patient understands what you expect from them.
8. Allow the session to be an enjoyable experience for you and the patient.

Fitting these elements together is the key and finding this fit is the fun part. Role play until you find what works for you. Practice with friends who are not in chiropractic school. Practice with your new student-patients. When you go home for break, practice with your parents or siblings. With so many scripts available to use and practice, your college library is a good resource to find information which will help guide you through the procedure. Try different types and see what works for you. Have your peers critique you. The idea is to practice to become proficient. When you are in the outpatient clinic, you should have a good grasp on presenting a report of findings and with just a little refinement, an easy transition to your practice after graduation. This is part of mastering the fundamentals. Stay focused, and practice, practice, practice!

J. Alan Lovejoy, DC, LCP was in private practice for 24 years and in Chiropractic education for 14 years. He has presented seminars to student groups, and frequently guest lectures. Dr. Lovejoy served as a liaison for Foot Levelers and received the Foot Levelers Clinician Award.

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