First, Listen to understand, not to respond

Aditi Sharma

This is second in the series of Glocal Academy’s articles on effective listening tips.

Communication is one of the most important aspects in healthcare system. It includes both speaking and listening. Actively listening to the patients and their concerns helps build a trusting relationship between patient and the doctor. It conveys a sense of acknowledgement to the patient.

By applying effective listening tips (see Figure) in clinical practice we can establish and sustain humane connections with patients and families.

In this column I will cover ‘First, Listen to understand, not to respond’ because I have always felt the need to listen more and speak less. It is beneficial for us to listen without an urge to reply. Being present with an attitude of listen to understand allows us to widen our thought process and accept the other person’s opinion.

 This listening tip beautifully explains us to calmly listen and understand the other person’s point of view. As a doctor, I believe that it is our responsibility to attentively Listen and not just Hear to our patient’s concerns. Listening with an intent to understand helps us to build a rapport with our patients and gives them a sense of comfort. In addition, it helps the doctor clearly analyse the patient’s problems by ask them the right questions; thereby reaching a correct diagnosis. 

I’ll share an example from my experience where this tip helped me to understand the problem better and establish a correct diagnosis. This happened in my final year when I was in Oral Medicine and Radiology posting. A middle-aged woman presented with persistent white pigmentation on the tongue. She told me that the previous Doctor diagnosed the condition as fungal infection and prescribed ‘oral mouth paint.’ As per the instructions the woman used it regularly for 3 weeks. As the condition did not improve despite adhering to the management plan, the patient came in for further review. On questioning, the patient told me that she was not able to have spicy food as it would irritate the pigmented area. She mentioned that the other doctor did not listen to her and prescribed the medicine just by having a glance at it. I listened to her narrative with care and asked questions to understand. By doing so, the diagnosis of Oral Lichen planus came to me.  It was magical. I called my professor and told her the whole case. My professor was glad that I was able to diagnose the case and it was all because, I listened to my patient carefully. She was happy that finally someone paid attention to her and was able to diagnose the condition. Few days later she came for follow up and informed that she was able to enjoy her food as condition was getting better.

This experience made me realise the importance of Listening; listening with an intent to understand, not to respond in haste. I would request all the readers to apply the listening tips in their clinical practice as they would build better connections with patients and help to make correct diagnosis.

About Author

Aditi Sharma

I am Dr. Aditi Sharma, Intern from ITS Dental College, Greater Noida. Member of Glocal Academy writer’s group. 
As a Dental Surgeon, my goal is to create awareness regarding the much-neglected oral health in our country. I envision to improve the condition of oral health in India. I would like to bring a positive and fruitful change in the society by making people more conscious towards the common oral diseases and methods to prevent them. Serving the society and creating smiles in real sense is what I want to achieve. 
I believe that besides being good doctors, we must be great listeners. It gives me immense pride and satisfaction when I can create magic for my patients by being an empathetic listener. 
The journey till here has been full of struggles but it is all worth it when I see my patients leave smiling after the treatment. Magic is indeed there; we just need to find it.! 

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