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Quality Questions to Help Bridge the Gap

Friday, November 20, 2020
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“The room is turning on me,” I thought to myself. The class had started well enough. We discussed objectives for this first in a series of three classes for physicians, physician assistants, and nurse practitioners. But after a burst of complaints from one person, the negativity had spread quickly throughout the room.

Our network was going to a new electronic medical record (EMR) system, and some healthcare professionals were not happy to be there learning about something they had no interest in. Anyone who has spent any time in healthcare has probably heard similar complaints about EMRs. No matter what type of career path any of us have been on we can relate to a meeting, a class, or one-on-one discussion with another person that did not go well.

How do we deal with others not eager to hear what we are saying? What can we do when people have varying degrees of motivations about a subject?

In an earlier post, I suggested pausing before reacting to something to determine the next right action. Two points to help you pick the next right action are preparation and asking quality questions.

Many years ago I had a little league baseball coach tell me “always remember the ‘5 Ps’ before a pitch.” They are prior preparation prevents poor performance. One way to prepare is to ask yourself some questions such as:

  • What are the goals of this event, discussion, or class?
  • Do I have enough time to achieve my objectives?
  • Why should anyone care about this information?
  • What may be the biggest concerns people have over the goals or the information that you are presenting?

Asking yourself questions will give you ideas that will focus your efforts. These questions and others will vary depending on the goal of that interaction. If you are preparing to discuss a cancer diagnosis with a patient, then you will have different things in mind compared to prepping for a class about the best ways to monitor blood sugar.

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What if you are prepared, but things still don’t go well?

Often, a well-timed quality question can help release tension and move the conversation in a more positive direction. People appreciate it when you ask questions and listen to the answers. Doing this during a session where you are discussing something that is not popular is important. For instance, when the scenario at the beginning of this post occurred, I asked the group, “What is the biggest concern that you have about this new system?”

Some of the concerns and complaints raised included:

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  • “I cannot see my current case load of patients if I have to do all of this! This is going to take too much time!"
  • “I already spend so much time with documentation that I stay up late to finish when I am at home!”
  • “Why so many clicks to do take of my note?”

The responses helped to guide the rest of class and helped me incorporate as many of those concerns as possible. I had certain objectives to achieve and points that I needed to get across. But listening to the concerns helped to guide the presentation in a way that connected more than going through sterile teaching points with no regard the concerns.

Patient interactions also benefit from asking questions. When you discuss issues with patients, do you encourage questions about how they can improve their health or deal with a current illness? Listen to the answers. They will help you pick appropriate language to facilitate the discussion. Pay attention to body language to give you more clues about how they are dealing with their situation. Granted, we don’t necessarily have as much time with patients as we would like some days. That makes it important to more effectively use the time we have with them.

So, whether you have a class to teach, group to lead, or patient to care for, remember that questions help to draw people out and help you connect with them. Listen carefully to the answers and their body language. The answers will reveal how you can best reach the other person and make them more receptive to the information you’re trying to convey. Being prepared is key to being able to listen to someone too. Knowing your subject and your limitations will also help you to be more present with them. Asking quality questions is another way to show others you are there to help no matter what challenges they are facing.

About the Author

Jason Vian is a software education analyst and instructional designer for a large healthcare network in eastern Pennsylvania. He is also an athletic trainer and has worked with a broad range of healthcare professionals for over 20 years in sports medicine helping to provide emergency, preventative and rehabilitative care to a wide range of physically active people.

Jason has collaborated with those around him throughout his career no matter where life may bring him. Always seeking to become a better human being, he is excited to hear different perspectives and contribute to solving challenging problems.

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