Effectively Opening a Patient Interview

Create Comfort from the Start

By Edward Leigh, MA

The first few seconds of meeting a patient are critical to establishing rapport, helping the patient feel at ease and setting the tone of the interview.

Wash your hands both before AND after seeing each patient. Many healthcare professionals prefer to wash their hands in front of the patient so the patient does not have to worry that they will pick up the previous patient’s germs.

These are guidelines to beginning an interview with patient:

Take a Deep Breath. During a busy day, you will develop a fast pace and your patients may pick up on that in your actions and voice. Taking a quick deep breath will relax you and prepare you for your next patient.

Knock at the Door. After a tap on the door announcing your presence, wait for the patient’s response. Do not just immediately open the door. Most clinicians knock and immediately walk in, however it is best to knock and wait until you hear a response and then enter.  This only takes a few seconds.

Patient’s Name

  • When first entering the room, use the patient’s name. This will immediately give your interaction a personal touch. From the start, people will feel more at ease and open to discussion. (Use the patient’s name first, then yours. We want the patient to feel special and using their name first will create this environment. Using your name first creates an authoritative feel to the interaction. If you are meeting a patient for the first time, state your role. For example, “Hello Mrs. Smith. I am your nurse, Barbara Jones.”)
  • Begin with a more formal approach with new or older patients. For example, walk in and say, “Hello Mr. Smith …” Address them this way, unless they request otherwise.
  • If you are seeing the patient for the first time and are unsure of the pronunciation, ask! To avoid the patient awkwardly telling you, “My last name is actually pronounced …” On the patients’s chart, it would be a good idea to phonetically write their name. For example, my last name is “Leigh.” People often mispronounce it as “Lay.” In my chart, it can be noted, “Last name pronounced ‘Lee.’” This is not only for your reference, but anyone else who reviews the chart.
  • Be sure names are updated, as in the case of marriages / divorces or step children. To avoid any awkward moments – asking about “life changes.” You may want to say, “We are updating our records, have there been any name changes?”

Shake hands, if you feel this is appropriate for the patient. According to a recent article in the Archives of Internal Medicine, most patients want physicians to shake their hands when they first meet. The article dealt with physicians, however the shaking hands gesture would most likely apply to other healthcare professionals.

Acknowledge others in the room, such as a family member or friend. Be sure to get their names. Shake their hands if appropriate. This acknowledgment is very important since you want to create a positive image with these family members as they will play key roles in the patient’s compliance.

Start with an open ended question. This includes the question, “What brings you here today?” Let the patient talk for at least a minute before asking questions.

By following these suggestions, patients will feel comfortable and ready share medical information. An effective start translates into an effective interview!




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