From the Society

Everything We Say and Do: Digging deep brings empathy and sincere communication


Editor’s note: “Everything We Say and Do” is an informational series developed by SHM’s Patient Experience Committee to provide readers with thoughtful and actionable communication tactics that have great potential to positively impact patients’ experience of care. Each article will focus on how the contributor applies one or more of the “key communication” tactics in practice to maintain provider accountability for “everything we say and do that affects our patients’ thoughts, feelings, and well-being.”

What I say and do

I find a way to connect with my patients to express sincere appreciation.

A recent “Everything We Say and Do” column focused on an important element of high-impact physician-patient communication: closing the encounter by thanking the patient. Evidence suggests that patients feel more valued by their providers when expressions of gratitude are offered. However, it is not always easy to find a genuine and sincere way to incorporate a “thank you” at the end of a visit.

Why I do it

The physician-patient relationship is an inherently hierarchical one. Recognizing that the encounter represents a meeting of two people who equally stand to gain from the interaction goes a long way to strengthen trust, improve communication, and enhance the therapeutic effect.

How I do it

Dr. Greg Seymann, clinical professor and vice chief for academic affairs, UCSD Division of Hospital Medicine

Dr. Greg Seymann

I don’t mean to imply that this task is easy for me; it’s not. I’m an introvert at heart who does not gravitate toward niceties and small talk – I don’t feel comfortable saying something if it is not genuine. But with a little effort and introspection, we can channel motivation for a meaningful appreciation of the many things our patients offer. Breaking out of the traditional mindset that the therapeutic relationship is a one-way street, going from the physician to patient as part of a professional duty, is the first step. Opening our eyes to the ways our patients also serve us helps draw the motivation for gratitude.

Many who don’t regularly experience serious illness firsthand take good health for granted. I appreciate my patients for reminding me to cherish my own good health. My patients offer me glimpses of hope as I watch them and their families rally through the trials that serious illness brings; in addition, they provide me inspiration and ideas for how I will handle these issues myself someday.

Some in other fields feel unfulfilled with their work as they contemplate their professional legacy. On the contrary, our patients validate our sense of purpose and strengthen our self-worth, as they allow us to participate in one of the noblest endeavors – caring for the sick. The unique insights physicians garner from patients via our intimate access to the private struggles and fears that all humans suffer, but rarely share, should strengthen our empathy for the greater human condition and enhance our own personal relationships.

Recalibrating my perspective makes it easier to harness and express sincere gratitude to patients, and enhances my ability to connect on a deeper level with those I serve.

Greg Seymann is clinical professor and vice chief for academic affairs, UCSD Division of Hospital Medicine.

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