Interpersonal Skills

One of the foremost skills of the family physician is the ability to use effectively the knowledge of interpersonal relations in the management of patients. This powerful element of clinical medicine may be the specialty's most useful tool. Physicians too often are seen as lacking personal concern and as being unskilled in understanding personal anxiety and feelings. There is a need to nourish the seed of compassion and concern for sick people that motivates students as they enter medical school.

Family medicine emphasizes the integration of compassion, empathy, and personalized concern. Some of the earnest solicitude of the "old country doctor" and his or her untiring compassion for people must be incorporated as effective but impersonal modern medical procedures are applied. The patient should be viewed compassionately as a person in distress who needs to be treated with concern, dignity, and personal consideration. The patient has a right to be given some insight into his or her problems, a reasonable appraisal of the potential outcome, and a realistic picture of the emotional, financial, and occupational expenses involved in his or her care. The greatest deterrents to filing malpractice claims are patient satisfaction, good patient rapport, and active patient participation in the health care process.

To relate well to patients, a physician must develop compassion and courtesy, the ability to establish rapport and to communicate effectively, the ability to gather information rapidly and to organize it logically, the skills required to identify all significant patient problems and to manage these problems appropriately, the ability to listen, the skills necessary to motivate people, and the ability to observe and detect nonverbal clues (see Chapter 12).

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