With all due respect to the many caring, compassionate, and skilled male OB/GYN physicians out there, we’d be amiss in ignoring the research showing a near majority of younger women preferring a female gynecologist. Some call this reverse discrimination in gynecology. I’d more simply call it patient preference. The bigger question is, “Where does this leave the male gynecologist?”, especially in a current marketing climate promoting the “female only” OB/GYN practice?
Having built a successful practice (hopefully on the merits of being a compassionate and skilled physician, and not simply by being a female provider), I was asked to mentor a younger male physician in regards to marketing, and in increasing patient volume. Already knowing this physician as a knowledgeable and skilled provider, I had no issue with assisting in this task. But the truth was, what could I really add?
I decided my approach: to contemplate, “what qualities women were really looking for,” in preferring a female doctor. Were those qualities, being a good listener, being conversational, or that she understands what I’m going through? Well some things we just can’t change, we can’t turn him into a female. But to better understand the softer side of feminine communication, I decided to bottle up some of those qualities, those of which I may be providing more naturally, as a female. I comprised a list of techniques for communicating with female patients within the doctor-patient encounter.
Caring and compassion are certainly not traits exclusive to the XX chromosomes. But as a woman myself, the best advice I could share were tips that might help to ensure with his females patients that “he gets it” and that “he gets them.” In a spirit of well-meaning, and with the hope of not seeming trivial, I shared these tips with him:
- Introduce yourself, with a warm greeting or handshake, showing your politeness, respect, and approachability.
- Try sitting down for a moment while the patient relates her chief complaints, showing that you have time for her, possibly making a nervous patient feel more at ease.
- Relate back to her a sentence or two of her stated complaints, so she knows you’re listening and that she’s been heard.
- Give detailed instructions on medication use, showing that you’re interested in her understanding.
- Offer resources for more information, showing her that you care about her problem.
- Greet them at the end of the visit, “Thanks for coming in,” “See you next year,” showing your appreciation for her visit, and that you look forward to seeing her again.
- Be a hero with the patient, by following up on tests, returning calls, and reminding them to call for concerns (showing her your availability).
Now, imagine that your patient bottled up this list of characteristics to describe her male physician.
He’s approachable, he makes time for me, he makes me feel at ease, he listens, he’s interested and cares about my problems, he’s available for my concerns, he’s appreciative, and I look forward to seeing him.
Why wouldn’t I want to see him?
In an era of competition and consumerism in healthcare, physicians are facing more pressure to market ourselves, our practices, and services. Despite the various marketing tactics, in my practice, word-of-mouth referrals, from one patient to another, remains the most successful approach to gaining new patients. Whether male or female, let’s share in great communication with our patients, giving them something great about their physician.
Over the years, these tips have worked for me.
Suzanne Hall is an obstetrician-gynecologist who blogs at Gyno Groupie. She can be reached on Twitter @drsuzyhall.