Social skills vs technical skills – a marketing exercise for medical practitioners

Over the years, our family has had varying degrees of satisfactory experience with doctors, dentists, physical therapists, and veterinarians  who have repaired or attempted to repair things that went wrong with our bodies or our pet’s bodies.

The doctors, vets, and so forth that we remember most fondly are the ones who had superior social skills, even when they turned out to be less than correct in determining and fixing what was wrong. This group treated us as individuals and stayed in full communication with us even when they could not fix something.

The doctors whose technical skills towered over their social skills often pulled off medical miracles but are remembered with annoyance, even distaste. This group fixed what was wrong and treated us as objects. We were remembered as the "knee replacement" or the "oral surgery" with UnitedHealthcare medical insurance.

This goes to extreme lengths in some medical practices where the doctor asks you a question with a recorder in his hand. You describe what you are experiencing and the doctor says to the recorder, "Patient is unable to localize the pain but thinks she is doing better."

My response would have been to take the recorder and dictate, "Doctor unable to confront patients. Needs to overcome fear through appropriate training or therapy."

What many doctors don’t realize is that their practice is under
constant scrutiny and open discussion on the internet. In the past,
patients compared notes, but there was no record of what they decided.
Today, if you want to find out what patients think about "Dr Y" you can
Google "Dr Y" and get instant feedback on his success rate.

I think that this trend will progress further and that online
commenters will soon rate medical practitioners on both their skill and
their patient handling, with examples to support the comments.

Practitioners generally have a mix of technical and social skills
and they should consider reviewing their social skills and patient
handling as these can be improved with a little care and attention.

I have recently discovered a dentist in a nearby city who does
superlative work, but I hesitate to recommend him without stating
clearly that his patient handling needs work.

He is so good that he has been able to correct matters that two
previous dentists and dental specialists could not touch. He has
evidently been trained to an exceptional degree of skill. On the other
hand, he has never been trained in communication skills and this
significantly affects the word of mouth advertising that he gets.

He is totally focused on getting me into the chair and getting the
work done perfectly. There is an absolute minimum of small talk with me
as a patient, but when the work is done, he will briefly consult with
me on whether I am satisfied.

On the other hand, he and his assistant will chat about a ball game
or other non-dental practice item while he is working on my mouth. This
is unnecessary and distracting to me as a patient. If he is being paid
to work on my teeth, I want his attention where it belongs.

I have gently suggested that he is an excellent dentist, even if he
lacks a warm and friendly "chair side manner". He was not sure how to
take that, but I didn’t have time to coach him in the economic aspects
of good communication skills.

On the positive side, he seems willing to learn from patient
suggestions and I am sure that he will acquire the same proficiency in
communicating with patients as he already has in fixing and beautifying
teeth.

I will continue using him as my dentist and recommending him to
others, but I will qualify my recommendation so that people will know
what to expect. Absolutely top rank work, but don’t expect a warm fuzzy
feeling from your visit.

It could easily be quite different. He is young and personable and
could create a great patient experience with a little work on his part.
I hope he takes the time to do that. It might make his practice more
enjoyable for him and his patients.

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