Practicing patience with patients

Patience is a notoriously hard skill to master. When working in health care, your patience is constantly tested, a lesson I have repeatedly learned in my time as a medical assistant in a large orthopedic surgery practice. Whether it is taking the time to reexplain instructions to a patient when I know am running behind in clinic, waiting on hold with another doctor’s office to obtain pertinent information regarding a mutual patient, or helping an elderly patient complete new patient paperwork on the ever-daunting-check-in tablets, patience is a regular part of my day.

Helen (fictitious name) is a patient who taught me many lessons about patience. She called our office to speak with me personally every day, often multiple times a day, for three months straight. During this period of time, I talked to Helen more often than my family or closest friends. Often, she called with questions that I had addressed verbally and in written form many times, while other times, she seemed to just want to chat. Every day I mentally prepared myself for our daily conversation and then calmly re-reviewed her many questions and concerns with her. Helen forced me to get creative, constantly coming up with novel ways to explain her instructions and protocols to her in order to help her better understand. She inspired me to make new handouts with patient instructions and to rework the handouts that had been made previously to increase clarity and decrease patient confusion. These new materials, my improved patient communication skills, and increased patience have benefitted and will continue to benefit countless patients after Helen.

As frustrating as working with patients directly can be at times, working with other health care facilities can be even more challenging. In my current role, I frequently must communicate with other specialists and primary care doctors for preoperative questions about patients and rehabilitation facilities that care for our elderly post-operative patients. Communicating with other health care entities typically involves a series of call transfers and holds, which hopefully result in connecting with the correct person. We all know that when we are busy, waiting on hold can test your patience. This is heightened when trying to communicate urgent information or when multitasking by making phone calls between patients in a busy clinic. From these experiences, I have learned the importance of clear, concise, and specific communication to promote the best outcomes for the patient and to decrease the need for further clarifying conversations. I have also learned the importance of detailed and explicit documentation to ensure that the conversation can be referenced in the future by myself or anyone else who may receive a follow-up call and to decrease the need to rehash the entire chain of communication from the physician to myself, to the facility, to the patient.

As the field of health care becomes more complex, with constant pressure to increase efficiency, we owe each other and our patients our patience and grace. I know that my ability to practice patience with patients enhances not only their visit experience but also their health outcomes. This makes me feel like I am making a real difference and inspires me to constantly strive to be as understanding, kind, and patient as possible with patients.

Natalie Enyedi is a premedical student.


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