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Special Communication
January 7, 2020

Practices to Foster Physician Presence and Connection With Patients in the Clinical Encounter

Author Affiliations
  • 1Division of Primary Care and Population Health, Stanford University School of Medicine, Stanford, California
  • 2VA Palo Alto Health Care System Center for Innovation to Implementation (Ci2i), Menlo Park, California
  • 3Stanford University Center for Primary Care and Outcomes Research (PCOR) and Center for Health Research and Policy (CHRP), Stanford, California
  • 4Department of Medicine, Stanford University, Stanford, California
JAMA. 2020;323(1):70-81. doi:10.1001/jama.2019.19003
Key Points

Question  What are the most promising practices to foster physician presence and connection with patients?

Findings  This mixed-methods study identified 5 practices that may enhance physician presence and meaningful connection with patients in the clinical encounter: (1) prepare with intention; (2) listen intently and completely; (3) agree on what matters most; (4) connect with the patient’s story; and (5) explore emotional cues.

Meaning  For busy clinicians with multiple demands and distractions, 5 recommended practices have the potential to facilitate meaningful interactions with patients.

Abstract

Importance  Time constraints, technology, and administrative demands of modern medicine often impede the human connection that is central to clinical care, contributing to physician and patient dissatisfaction.

Objective  To identify evidence and narrative-based practices that promote clinician presence, a state of awareness, focus, and attention with the intent to understand patients.

Evidence Review  Preliminary practices were derived through a systematic literature review (from January 1997 to August 2017, with a subsequent bridge search to September 2019) of effective interpersonal interventions; observations of primary care encounters in 3 diverse clinics (n = 27 encounters); and qualitative interviews with physicians (n = 10), patients (n = 27), and nonmedical professionals whose occupations involve intense interpersonal interactions (eg, firefighter, chaplain, social worker; n = 30). After evidence synthesis, promising practices were reviewed in a 3-round modified Delphi process by a panel of 14 researchers, clinicians, patients, caregivers, and health system leaders. Panelists rated each practice using 9-point Likert scales (−4 to +4) that reflected the potential effect on patient and clinician experience and feasibility of implementation; after the third round, panelists selected their “top 5” practices from among those with median ratings of at least +2 for all 3 criteria. Final recommendations incorporate elements from all highly rated practices and emphasize the practices with the greatest number of panelist votes.

Findings  The systematic literature review (n = 73 studies) and qualitative research activities yielded 31 preliminary practices. Following evidence synthesis, 13 distinct practices were reviewed by the Delphi panel, 8 of which met criteria for inclusion and were combined into a final set of 5 recommendations: (1) prepare with intention (take a moment to prepare and focus before greeting a patient); (2) listen intently and completely (sit down, lean forward, avoid interruptions); (3) agree on what matters most (find out what the patient cares about and incorporate these priorities into the visit agenda); (4) connect with the patient’s story (consider life circumstances that influence the patient’s health; acknowledge positive efforts; celebrate successes); and (5) explore emotional cues (notice, name, and validate the patient’s emotions).

Conclusions and Relevance  This mixed-methods study identified 5 practices that have the potential to enhance physician presence and meaningful connection with patients in the clinical encounter. Evaluation and validation of the outcomes associated with implementing the 5 practices is needed, along with system-level interventions to create a supportive environment for implementation.

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