Three Steps for Improvement: Screening Patients for Sensitive Information

I have conducted many interviews in my healthcare career with children, adolescents, adults and geriatric patients. The key to obtaining personal information revolves around how healthcare professionals approach these sensitive, but necessary screening questions.

Building Rapport

Building a strong rapport with your patients starts with being transparent and establishing trust. Patients determine very quickly whether or not they feel comfortable interacting with a specific healthcare provider, so building a rapport early on is important.

The physical environment is important when establishing a rapport with your patients. The physical environment should be neat, clean, safe, private and comfortable. If you do not meet these simple requirements your job and chance of gaining trust is diminished greatly.

Always greet your patient and others they have with them appropriately. If introductions are needed then that should take place before any other interaction. All parties involved need to be identified and introduced to one another.

Allow the patient to give you verbal acknowledgment that it is appropriate to conduct any examinations or screening with the parties that are present. This will help establish that the patients are involved in their own treatment.

Setting the Expectations

Clearly explain the reasons behind any invasive procedure or questioning. For example, explain to the patient that you will be asking questions of a personal nature.

I have found it very helpful to reveal this information in the opening dialogue. State that these questions are asked to all of your patients. Encourage the patient to be open and honest when sharing personal information. It is also helpful to remind them that the information is protected and confidential. Any caveats to this may also be disclosed at this time.

Then move forward by asking each question in clear, precise, and confident manner. This entire process of setting the expectations should be done very quickly. It is almost like providing them a short disclaimer.

I have found that this step will help minimize the patient’s anxiety level if it is conducted in a precise manner.

Preparing, Practicing and Repeating

It is important to familiarize yourself with any questionnaire that you will be using. Practice how you will ask the questions and be prepared to answer questions or objections that the patient may have. Always enter the patient’s room ensuring that your thoughts, words, and materials are organized. As with many things, the more frequently you perform these screenings the more comfortable you will become with completing this task and the more proficient you will become.

As healthcare providers it is our obligation to take a complete holistic approach when caring for our patients and address their entire well-being to ensure that we are providing the highest quality of care to each patient we serve.

Author: Michael W. Pastori, MBA, MSN, RN, CNL