How to communicate with consumers or patients should be taught in medical school, because when you are in practice in the real world this skill takes on immeasurable importance.
Arguably, however, most doctors and, especially, surgeons are not likely to admit or even recognize that their communication skills are suboptimal. However, the staff will know it and usually have to overcompensate for a doctor’s cool demeanor by going above and beyond to make patients feel comfortable.
Far too many doctors would be well served to improve their communication skills, which will hopefully translate to avoiding dissatisfaction, misunderstandings, and unhappy patients—so many of which stem from a disconnect in the communication process.
When communicating with consumers, a distinction should be made depending on who you are addressing. Something that seems so basic is often overlooked: Who is your intended audience?
Your tone, language, and level of explanation will be quite different when addressing prospective patients who are new to your practice and possibly to cosmetic beauty treatments, than when talking to loyal cosmetic patients you have treated before. The former require more detailed descriptions of procedures and techniques, more visuals, and generally more of your time. The latter may be accustomed to the nuances of lasers and injectable treatments as well as surgical procedures, so you can use more advanced phrases with greater assurance that they will be able to follow what you are saying.
ADDRESSING THE MEDIA
By the same token, you should learn to address consumer media with a different tone than trade media, who are more attuned to the industry and market. Today’s consumer media consists of a wide range of freelancers, editors, producers, and reporters who are often new to aesthetic surgery and are not always familiar with the procedures and treatments you offer.
The appropriate dialogue between doctors and patients needs to be professional, yet with a grain of understanding and a dose of compassion and empathy. If you come across as stiff, distant, and cold, then cosmetic patients may feel there is a barrier between you. This discourages them from asking pertinent questions for fear of your condemnation. No one wants to feel stupid in front of the doctor.
This approach may not allow you to develop the kind of open collaborative exchange that creates feelings of confidence and trust in patients. The doctor-patient relationship today must be a two-way street, and mutual dialogue is a requirement.
At the other end of the spectrum, avoid crossing a dotted line between the roles of an authority figure and one in which you become too friendly with patients. This approach can be risky and, in some cases, may persuade female patients to misread the signals. It can also greatly undermine the authority of the practice nurses and administrative team when a patient may feel that he or she has a “personal” or “special” relationship with the physician.
Whenever you speak to patients, if you find yourself wondering whether you have explained treatments well, or spent enough time and given them a chance to respond or ask questions, it is a sign that you are on the right path.
Cosmetic patients appreciate a physician who is accessible and approachable. This does not necessitate your giving them your cell phone number, but it does mean that you or your representative will return their call and respond to emergencies in a timely fashion.
One of the challenges faced by cosmetic surgeons is that their persona is very public today in the age of Facebook profiles and pages, tweets, and blogs.
The physician has become a celebrity of sorts, and patients look at them differently than a decade ago. All too often, they know everything about the doctor before they ever become a patient, including their lifestyle, what car they drive, marital status, number of children, and their hobbies. This presents an even greater challenge to maintain the right degree of boundaries in the physician-patient relationship.
Wendy Lewis is president of Wendy Lewis & Co Ltd Global Aesthetics Consultancy, author of 10 books, and a regular contributor to PSP. She can be reached at . Follow her on twitter.com/cosmeticmed.