3 Signs Your Doctor Is a Good Listener

Find out if you're getting the best out of your doctor-patient interview.
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During the course of a career, a doctor conducts on average 120,000 to 160,000 patient interviews. Good diagnosticians ask the kinds of questions that help you tell your story in a way that provides the clues they need to find out what's wrong with you. Here's how to tell if your doctor is truly listening to you:

1. She asks the right kind of questions.

A good doctor asks open-ended questions that prompt you to discuss your symptoms and provide more detail. Examples: "What would you like help with today?" "Can you describe your pain for me?" Too many close-ended ones -- the type that can be answered with a simple yes or no -- can prevent you from describing your symptoms in detail. It's fine if a physician interjects a close-ended question to clarify a point and then lets you continue speaking. Example: "So your knee pain only happens when you go down the stairs?" But you don't just want to be running down a checklist. If your doctor doesn't ask for more details, take the initiative. Explain, for example, what your knee pain feels like, when it flares up, when it started, and why you are concerned.

2. She uses continuers.

These comments signal that your doctor is listening and encouraging you to go on. Examples: "Uh huh." "I see." "Go on." "Tell me more." Your doctor may also send nonverbal signals that you should continue speaking -- nodding her head, making eye contact, leaning forward, and remaining quiet.

3. She uses elaborators.

These remarks echo what you've said so that you know she has understood you -- and they prompt you to keep talking. Example: You say, "I feel dizzy sometimes." The doctor responds, "Tell me more about your dizzy spells."


Originally published in Ladies' Home Journal, December 2007.


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