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You Only Have 7 Seconds to Impress Your Patients

After that, they already know what they think about you

Adapted from: Suneel Dhand, MD’s, Medpage Today, May 8, 2018

A clinician is working down their long list of patients, powering through the day, striving to use their skills to provide much needed care. Some of the patients will be long standing CKD patients who they already know; others will be brand new patients, who they are meeting for the first time. Of course, the job of any clinician is first and foremost to provide good patient care. That’s what all the training was all about: to get them to a position where they can safely and competently do this. But the crucial aspect of healthcare, which is notoriously under-taught, is how to communicate with your patients. That’s most of what any clinician does, and a fundamental universal truth in healthcare. The ability to communicate well is everything.

On that note, what could be more important than making a great first impression whenever a clinician meets a patient for the first time? As technicians and nurses, it should be our absolute goal to start building a relationship of trust right from that very first meeting and get off to a really good start. Because if a patient doesn’t develop that feeling of trust, and yes — also likeability, towards you, you may never be able to reach them and help them cope with this new life they are embarking on. It’s human nature, and we don’t have very long to make a good impression. Did you know, research actually suggests whenever we meet someone for the first time, that judgment about the other person will be formed in only the first few seconds? Yes, about seven seconds to be precise. This happens with anyone, even a random person on the street, but is especially important for a caregiver to keep in mind. In those first several seconds, we as humans are primed to judge the other person’s friendliness, cooperation, and competence. This happens at an entirely subconscious level, and is believed to go back to caveman days, even before speech started when we had to make snap judgments about the other person very quickly.

So for any clinician, what types of things can you do in those first prescious seconds to make a better impression on your patient? Here are just three:

  1. Facial expression. This is obviously the first thing that someone will notice when they look at you. Few things could be better received than a genuine smile (known as a “Duchenne smile”) and a facial expression that conveys friendliness. Of course, smiling doesn’t come naturally to everyone but is the most simple thing you can do if you want to appear approachable or trustworthy. The opposite of this would be looking stern, closed off, or worst of all, uninterested in the person in front of you.
  2. Eye contact. Maintain constant eye contact in those first few seconds. Don’t glance at the patient and then look away at the chart, this action tells the patient they do not have your full undivided attention at this low point in their lives.
  3. Body posture and movements. Does your body posture and the way you first greet the patient display an aura of calmness and competence, or does it do something quite opposite? If you are clearly in a rush, hurried or looking tense yourself — your patient will sense that in a second. Even the way you walk upright and confident versus slouching and hesitant will get processed in an instant. Your goal is to radiate that you are calm and a good listener.

These are just three brief things you can do to make a great first impression that says you are a friendly, caring and competent clinician.

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