What today’s doctors can learn from Dale Carnegie

How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie is a timeless bestseller. It is a book that’s translated into many languages globally and carries brand name recognition.  People who read the book recognize common sense approach and simple lessons of courtesy that are so eloquently described by the author.

Dale Carnegie had a knack for oratory skill and displaying genuine connection with other human beings. While he tried many different trades, it was in teaching, debating, and self–help learning that he established his international fame and following. His message was simple: Develop a genuine interest in the other person and make other person feel comfortable and at ease, talk in terms of other person’s interest and don’t criticize, condemn or complain.

While the original intent of this book may have been to improve salesmanship and managerial techniques for better dealings between an employee and a boss in the work place, its lessons may very well translate into the health care arena of today.

Today, more so than ever before, it is important to recognize lessons passed on by Dale Carnegie on simple values of sincere care and concern for patient’s wellbeing, and family apprehension. Making connections with a patient, a caregiver, and loved ones depends on being a good listener and allowing the time necessary to express all worries. Exercising our listening capacity for a patient story leads to improved patient satisfaction and better clinical outcomes. We should not assume that certain groups don’t want or cannot participate in decisions about health care. Clinicians who allow more time for patient communication report better rapport and satisfaction with their patient population.

Taking a genuine interest in one’s work is a necessary ingredient in order to succeed at any task, especially when dealing with persons who are at most vulnerable and are looking for help. It has been widely documented and accepted that good providers often remember personal details about their patients, make them feel at ease and provide a sense of genuine interest during an encounter. This ability to put people at ease is extremely important in the time when patients are looking for compassion, empathy and support. Provider’s role is to comfort and encourage the patient while dispensing advice in different circumstances ranging from preventive health screening to delivering life changing news of a terminal condition.

One family practice physician I know takes small notes on the personal aspects of patient’s lives that don’t have much to do with the clinical history, such as a recent wedding or event in the family. He is ready and willing to remind the patient and inquire about their children’s recent basketball game or grand daughter’s birthday on the next visit. It is those small moments that make the visit that much more personable and creates a lasting bond of trust, partnership, and loyalty.

Taking the patient’s chief complaint and building on that is taught from day one in medical school, however, often on rounds in ICU, and/or medical wards we get lost in a dozen or so chronic conditions that complicate the patient’s stay in the hospital. We forget that the patient is in the hospital in the first place for pain, shortness of breath, or nausea and instead focus on abnormal laboratory result, chest radiograph finding or appropriate drug dosage.

Often the symptom-focused approach does not take place until the patient is on hospice or palliative care service and is deemed beyond help and resuscitation. Our trained minds focus on solving the big problems of complicated diagnoses associated with chronic comorbidities and convoluted medical drug regimens.

Often we forget that it is usually one or two symptoms that really are the most bothersome to the patient. In learning to listen to the patient, and talking about the patient and what’s important for them we can deliver better overall care, and while we will not cure every complicated, complex, medical problem we can provide better management of symptoms. From management of pain, constipation, nausea, dizziness, ataxia, dysphagia, and incontinence to psychological issues of anxiety, fear, and depression we can provide better care with focusing more on symptoms and patient-centered concerns.

Taking the sincere, open approach with patient care will result in better communication, more productive patient encounters and higher patient satisfaction scores. The importance of courteous, polite and genuinely interested clinician cannot be overstated. Patient care is an obligation and a privilege that we clinicians assume when we sign up to treat people and help those in need.

Today’s medical providers can learn a lot from old lessons of Dale Carnegie’s book by embracing the simple tenets dictated in his writings. We have come a long way in our scientific discoveries and technological advances, and now it is time to combine these achievements with simple human emotion, honest care, and personal investment.

Aleksander Shalshin is a physician.

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