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Mindful listening: Is your healthcare provider hearing you?

As specialists in pelvic health physical therapy, we meet a new patient and listen to their medical history. Often, we hear a lot of frustration that no one has ever truly heard their story.  Listening, true, mindful listening, is a powerful tool in how we care for our patients.  A recent study found that the average patient is interrupted by their health care provider 10 to 20 seconds into each visit.  That is barely enough time to tell the provider what your main symptom is let alone build a rapport!  We often spend the first 20 to 30 minutes listening to and hearing a patient’s story.   

Being truly heard is powerful. It tells our patients that we care about them and we want to help them find the best answer to the concern that brings them in.  Sometimes, a new patient will tell us after their first visit to our clinic, that it was the first time they had felt heard by a medical provider. 

There are several aspects of listening that make up mindful communication.  It is not just listening to what the patient says. 

  • Compassion is the provider’s authentic intention to decrease the patient’s pain or other symptoms 
  • Empathy is the active effort to understand how the patient is affected by the pain or other symptoms and how these symptoms may change how the patient sees themselves or reacts to their home or work lives 
  • Autonomy is the backbone of physical therapy.  We want to help the patient to learn how to improve or manage their symptoms to the best of their ability.  With this, we want the patient to help set their goals for what skills they want to work on.  Autonomy is also helping clients to advocate for themselves with other providers, their families, and people at work.   
  • Motivation is another core of physical therapy in that we help to set up the routines and exercises that will aid the patient in making changes in their world.  We want to set every patient up for success from their routines to their exercise programs. 

We know from our own clinical experiences, and from the research, that active listening improves our clients’ wellbeing and aids in the management of persistent medical conditions, including pain.  At Foundational Concepts, we want our clients to know that they are truly heard and that they have an advocate in their physical therapist.  This mindful listening sets us apart in a healthcare world that does not always hear what patients are saying. At Foundational Concepts we offer a free 15 minute phone consultation to answer your questions or concerns before you schedule a visit with us!

Sarah is the proud co-owner of Foundational Concepts, Specialty Physical Therapy which opened in March 2013. Sarah lectures at the University of Missouri Department of PT, University of Kansas Departments of PT and Nurse Midwifery, and at Rockhurst University Department of PT. She is board certified in Women’s Health PT and holds certifications in medical therapeutic yoga, lymphedema therapy and dry needling.

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