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Although the entire patient experience—from the preliminary inquiry to post-treatment follow-up —is important, the most crucial step in this journey is the initial consultation patients have with you, their physician or medical provider. If you fail to impress patients at this early stage, it is highly likely they are lost to your practice forever.

There are two key questions patients ask themselves when leaving a consultation:

1. Do I trust and believe in the provider?

2. Do I like the provider?

Should patients answer “no” to these questions, no amount of impressive credentials or social media cache will change their minds. Instead, cement your trustworthiness and likeability from the start by displaying authenticity, competency, and empathy—in other words, employing emotional intelligence (EQ, also known as emotional quotient).

It’s About Connecting

So, what is EQ? At its core, EQ is the ability to recognize and understand your own emotions and those of others, and to use that insight for better self-management and to improve your interpersonal relationships.1

Did you know that people with high EQ are far more successful in the workplace than those with high IQ? In fact, studies have shown that 90 percent of top performers have high EQ vs. only 20 percent of bottom performers. The good news is unlike IQ, which is relatively set by age 15, EQ can be learned and improved upon throughout your life.1 So how can you strengthen and demonstrate your EQ with patients? Start by incorporating these simple—yet impactful—behaviors into your initial patient consultations.

1. Smile and greet people by name.

This may seem so basic as to not even rate a mention. However, especially with the continued use of masks, it is vital that you establish a genuine connection with patients at the outset. Making eye contact and smiling to the point where your eyes are engaged, even if your lower face is obscured by a mask, is a great first step. Make sure you accompany this genuine smile by introducing yourself and greeting patients by name. The more you use people’s names (within reason of course), the more they connect with and trust you.

How important is a name? Most of us have been in a loud restaurant where there is an abundance of ambient noise and overlapping conversations surrounding us. If someone happens to say your name from across the room, even if it’s not directed to you, your brain immediately orients to that word and allows it to penetrate through all the other competing sounds in the room around you. We are physiologically hardwired to respond to the sound of our own name more than any other word. As Dale Carnegie said, “A person’s name is the sweetest and most important sound in any language.” When you use patients’ names, they feel seen and validated, instantly building rapport with them.

2. Come to the consultation prepared.

How long do you have to create a great first impression? Probably less time than you think. It is widely understood that most people form their impressions of others within the first seven seconds of meeting them! Due to our innate confirmation bias, the rest of the interaction is often seen through this initial (positive or negative) lens, as patients are seeking to confirm their first impression of you. So how can you make sure those crucial seven seconds put you in a good light?

Before entering the exam room make sure you have:

  • Done your homework; you know why the patient is there.
  • Reviewed the patient’s intake forms, cosmetic interest questionnaire, and chart notes.
  • Received relevant input from staff members.

By reviewing this information in advance, it communicates to patients that you are prepared and value the time they took to fill out paperwork, thereby, starting the interaction on the right foot.

This positive and professional introduction should also include a credentialing statement that puts patients at ease. Many providers balk at providing credentialing statements, fearing it sounds self-aggrandizing. However, it is important to remember this is done to benefit patients. Credentialing provides patients the emotional reassurance they seek, confirming that they are in the hands of an expert.

An opening credentialing statement might go as follows: “Good afternoon, Ms. Danders, my name is Dr. Shah. After reviewing your medical history and concerns, you are an ideal candidate for this treatment. This is a procedure I have more than 10 years of experience in, and I am trained in a variety of advanced techniques that produce beautiful outcomes my patients rave about.”

3. Practice active listening and ask questions.

Active listening is a powerful skill, but unfortunately too many providers equate simply hearing with truly listening. Active listening requires focusing on what your patients are saying, not just hearing it while simultaneously trying to formulate your response.

So how can you demonstrate active listening? Keep an open body posture by leaning slightly toward patients and resting your arms at your side. Also, make eye contact, nod at what’s being said, and listen without interrupting. When appropriate, ask relevant, clarifying questions such as: “How long has this condition been a concern of yours?” This not only provides you with additional pertinent information, but it reassures patients that you are truly focused on them and what they are sharing is valuable (and thus, they are valuable to you).

In addition to asking meaningful questions, paraphrasing what you heard also demonstrates your attentiveness and understanding. For instance, “If I understand you correctly, this condition has bothered you for years but has recently worsened after turning 40?” Questions like that show you are actively listening.

4. Express empathy and authenticity.

Having shadowed many aesthetic consultations, the emotions I most often observe in patients are anxiety, excitement, shame, and confusion. Understanding what emotions patients may be experiencing as they walk through your doors can better orient you to connect and empathize with them during your consultation.

Empathy is rooted in understanding the emotions of others without needing to experience it personally. As mentioned earlier, people with high EQ are not only aware of their own emotions, but they are keenly attuned to the emotions of others around them and adjust their behavior accordingly.

When actively listening and asking relevant questions during your consultation, pay attention to the underlying emotion(s) patients are conveying. Anxiety, shame, and apprehension may not be expressly verbalized, making it key to pay attention to patients’ facial expressions, body language, and speech patterns. It’s widely recognized that 93 percent of communication is nonverbal. This means you need to give your patients your focused and undivided attention to pick up on all that is being communicated. How might you express your full understanding? It might sound like this: “Along with being excited, I understand you likely have some anxiety around this procedure. What questions can I answer to help put your mind at ease?” Once patients believe you empathize with them on an emotional level, it enriches this vital connection and further bolsters the trust they place in you.

Stronger Patient Relationships

The power of EQ and its impact on provider/patient relations is profound. By following the recommendations above during that precious initial consultation, you will assure patients that you are a likeable and trustworthy provider who genuinely cares for their well-being. That kind of relationship, when fostered at the outset, will be stronger and more meaningful, ultimately leading to improved patient conversion and retention. With results like that, how can you not adjust your bedside manner?

1 Bradberry, Travis, and Greaves, Jean. Emotional Intelligence 2.0. TalentSmart, 2009.

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