Due to Covid-19, we’re all learning new ways of doing things. For many physicians, that has meant diving head first into telehealth. But navigating our new way of patient care from behind a screen can be difficult. Physician coaching skills can help improve patient connections – especially when engaging in telehealth.
Using Coaching Skills in Patient Interactions
Coaching is a collaborative relationship that allows the coachee to improve intrinsic motivation and self-monitoring to more easily achieve significant goals. Simply put, coaching is helping someone navigate challenges themselves rather than doing it for them.
Professional coaching has been extremely helpful to me. I have been involved with some form of professional coaching, mostly as a client, for about 4 years now. I have even taken a few short physician educational courses to further develop my coaching skills with the goal of gaining a deeper understanding of professional coaching. I am always curious to see how I can improve my coaching skills to help others. In daily interactions with my patients, co-workers, and family – especially my children – I use coaching skills that I’ve learned over the years.
When I read a 2020 review paper from JAMA titled “Practices to Foster Physician Presence and Connection with Patients in the Clinical Encounter” in which the authors describe 5 evidence-based practices that can allow one to better connect with patients (1), it made me think about how closely the practices resemble coaching skills. At a time when connecting with our patients has become an even bigger challenge, and increasingly important as their trips to the doctor become less frequent, it’s important to leverage every available opportunity to help them.
How Coaching Skills Improve Telehealth Visits
While telehealth visits offer many great opportunities to improve patient care during COVID-19 and beyond, technology can also induce anxiety for patients and physicians alike. Telehealth visits can be filled with anxiety and we should do whatever we can to improve the quality of our patient interactions. For example, trying to do telehealth with a patient who has minimal technology experience can be stressful for both the patient and the physician. Having difficult encounters over telehealth (such as discussing poor outcomes with patients) can be anxiety-provoking as well. I suggest trying these 5 practices to improve your telehealth visits:
- Prepare with Intention – take a moment to focus before greeting the patient.
- Listen Intently and Completely – use active listening skills so the patient knows they are heard.
- Agree on What Matters the Most for the Patient – summarize back to them what you heard them say and agree on moving forward steps.
- Connect with the Patient’s Story – acknowledge positive changes they made and celebrate their successes.
- Explore Emotional Cues – notice, name, and validate the patient’s emotions.
The above evidence-based practices have been shown to increase the degree of physician presence and meaningful connection with patients in the clinical encounter, and we should be applying them to our telehealth visits too. Again, these are the exact same skills we use in coaching! I think of all the patients I see in a week, and how each and every encounter is another opportunity to practice these coaching or patient communication skills and explore how powerful they can be.
Think about the best patient encounters you have had. They are not just dependent upon the diagnosis. They are probably occurring most often in patients with whom you have a meaningful connection. If you practice these skills intentionally, you will begin to have more meaningful connections with patients and others!
Do you remember your best patient encounters? What stood out to you? Tell us in the discussion thread below.
Do you have something to share? Contribute! Email Team@SurgeonMasters.com
Ryan Will, MD
Ryan is a board-certified and fellowship-trained orthopaedic surgeon specializing in trauma care. After finishing his orthopaedic residency at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center Hamot in Erie, Pennsylvania, he completed an orthopaedic trauma fellowship at Regions Hospital in St. Paul, Minnesota. When he is not seeing patients or coaching, Dr. Will enjoys hiking, mountain climbing, cooking, and spending time with his family.