Making personal connections with patients: Thoughts from a psychiatrist in the midst of the pandemic

Months into the COVID-19 pandemic, anxiety about the new coronavirus and its clinical and economic effects has spiked, and one psychiatrist believes to help combat this, he needs to drop some of the professionalism he adopts around patients and seek a more personal connection, according to an article in The New England Journal of Medicine.

Michael W. Kahn, MD, a psychiatrist at Harvard Medical School and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, both in Boston, penned the perspective article. He writes that during his four decades in his career, he has slowly become more comfortable being spontaneous around his patients and sharing personal details, such as "vacation destinations, movies seen, and the like." This does not mean that he shares personal problems with patients, but rather that the gap between his professional and everyday personas has closed.

"I feel like a fellow human being as well as a caring technician," he wrote.

The COVID-19 pandemic has sharpened the need for that personal connection with patients, especially in the midst of telehealth visits. Dr. Kahn writes that he begins video calls by asking not only how his patients are doing, but also how their family and friends are. The patients in turn ask Dr. Kahn about himself and his family. He also asks for details on how his patients are spending their days, and they share their hobbies, virtual tours of their homes as well as introductions to pets.

He concluded: "The current crisis therefore offers an opportunity — owing to our shared vulnerability to the virus — for doctors to recognize more readily facts that can otherwise take years to learn: that we're no different from our patients and that interacting with them in a manner similar to the one we naturally use with nonpatients can be gratifying for them and freeing for us."

Read the full article here.

More articles on patient experience:
The game-changers: 10 execs outline the defining tech of the next 10 years
Moving toward a 'new normal': How hospitals are convincing patients it's safe to come back
Cleveland Clinic's CXO: 4 important promises to patients

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