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The “Unheard” Part 1

The “Unheard” Part 1

We’ve all heard those patients in the lobby ask others, “How long have you been waiting?”

Those patients tend to have a way of “stirring the pot” to rile everyone up. They’re the first ones to give grief to the staff and nurses. Those patients are called “high-maintenance” or “challenging.”

I prefer to call these patients “unheard.”

I feel for these people. Typically, these unheard patients walk around with unanswered questions, fear, and worry. Instead of expressing their frustrations directly, their frustrations manifest as aggression toward the healthcare system and even the healthcare team.

Actually, these unheard patients find it hard to believe that anyone really cares for them.

In my experience, many healthcare professionals tend to dread and sometimes try to avoid seeing these unheard patients.

Here are several reasons for this dread and avoidance:

  1. Unheard patient visits are usually time-consuming because they often require longer visits than other patients.
  2. The number and types of complaints that unheard patients have may overwhelm many healthcare professionals.
  3. Healthcare professionals often feel hopeless and cynical (nihilistic) that they can’t do anything to help the unheard patients.

I’ve found myself drawn to this population of unheard patients throughout my career.

Early in my practice, I learned that it is critical to make the time to listen, to really listen on a personal level. This allows unheard patients to feel that someone is listening to them and that they have finally been heard. I find great satisfaction in facilitating this breakthrough.

If I know that an unheard patient is coming to the clinic, I try to carve out a double appointment time or at least a few extra minutes. I listen carefully to them. Then, I paraphrase their key points. This shows unheard patients that I’ve both heard them and understand their concerns and issues.

Join me in next week’s blog when I share how the particular phrases and concepts that my childhood dentist gave me as a newly accepted medical student help unheard patients today.