How health professionals can show they are listening

by Liza Pine

The Gold Foundation asked people to respond to a brief survey answering the question: “How would you know your healthcare professional is really listening to your concerns?” Nearly 65 respondents explained ways that their providers make them feel heard and posed suggestions for improvement. Here is a word cloud representing their answers; the larger the word, the more times it was mentioned.


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Based on these responses, patients would want providers to know that their verbal and non-verbal communication techniques, as well as their organizational skills and patient-centered behaviors, all help patients to feel listened to.   Want some examples? Below, patients offer concrete suggestions for providers in their own words.

Verbal Communication
  • Ask follow-up questions.
    • “Follow up questions make me feel like my concerns are being vetted and taken seriously”
  • Mirror back your patient’s responses to show that you understand and have incorporated them into your own thinking.
  • Validate your patient’s worries.
    • “Acting like my problem is a big deal, even if it isn’t in the grand scheme of things.”
  • Have your patient teach back.
    • “Ask me to repeat whatever instructions are given to me to ensure that we’re communicating well and understanding each other.“
  • “Answer my questions directly.”
  • Be “comfortable with silence.”
  • Let your patient finish a thought before you respond.
    • “No interrupting or attempting to problem-solve before I indicated what I need help with”
  • Address your patient’s concerns directly.
    • “Either allay my concerns or explain what needs to be done next to address those concerns”
Non-verbal communication
  • Make eye contact while speaking and listening
  • Demonstrate active listening behaviors like nodding or adjusting facial responses
  • Be aware of your demeanor and conversational tone
  • Save the typing for after your conversation
  • Pay attention to your body positioning with relation to your patient. One respondent requests: “Sit!”
Organizational Skills
  • “Remember me!”
    • “Initiate conversation about my concerns of my last visit and ask if they were resolved.”
  • “Take notes.”
  • Communicate with other providers who treat your patient.
  • Spend one-on-one time with your patient
    • “Spending just 5 short minutes getting to know the patient”
Patient-Centered Behaviors
  • Make the experience personal by “asking about my family, vacations, etc.”
  • Follow up after the appointment
    • Take the time to personally see how I am feeling.”
    • “Check in on me either with an email or a phone call.”
    • “Follow through that the patient gets the appropriate treatment for their illness.”
  • Give me options
    • “Suggest treatment options tailored to my needs.”
  • Let me participate 
    • “Engage in educating me and then giving me a plan of action.”
    • Acknowledge that that “I have as much to say about my body and illness and treatment” as you do.
  • Treat the whole patient
    • “Put more attention on my whole experience rather than a narrow focus for diagnosis”
    • I appreciate providers “not always ‘having the clinically correct answer’ but one that is also addressing where I am at the time.”

As several respondents explained, patients feel more satisfied when they know that their healthcare professional is really listening to their concerns. One patient describes the satisfaction that accompanies feeling heard: “I would leave the appointment feeling relieved, having had my questions answered, and felt like I had participated in a respectful conversation.”

LizaPine-150x150Liza is a 2014 graduate of Wesleyan University where she was a Neuroscience & Behavior and Spanish double major. Liza is an intern at the Arnold P. Gold Foundation Research Instititute and is interested in medicine as a way to form relationships and enact social change.