Importance: Time constraints, technology, and administrative demands of modern medicine often impede the human connection that is central to clinical care, contributing to physician and patient dissatisfaction.
Objective: To identify evidence and narrative-based practices that promote clinician presence, a state of awareness, focus, and attention with the intent to understand patients.
Evidence review: Preliminary practices were derived through a systematic literature review (from January 1997 to August 2017, with a subsequent bridge search to September 2019) of effective interpersonal interventions; observations of primary care encounters in 3 diverse clinics (n = 27 encounters); and qualitative interviews with physicians (n = 10), patients (n = 27), and nonmedical professionals whose occupations involve intense interpersonal interactions (eg, firefighter, chaplain, social worker; n = 30). After evidence synthesis, promising practices were reviewed in a 3-round modified Delphi process by a panel of 14 researchers, clinicians, patients, caregivers, and health system leaders. Panelists rated each practice using 9-point Likert scales (-4 to +4) that reflected the potential effect on patient and clinician experience and feasibility of implementation; after the third round, panelists selected their "top 5" practices from among those with median ratings of at least +2 for all 3 criteria. Final recommendations incorporate elements from all highly rated practices and emphasize the practices with the greatest number of panelist votes.
Findings: The systematic literature review (n = 73 studies) and qualitative research activities yielded 31 preliminary practices. Following evidence synthesis, 13 distinct practices were reviewed by the Delphi panel, 8 of which met criteria for inclusion and were combined into a final set of 5 recommendations: (1) prepare with intention (take a moment to prepare and focus before greeting a patient); (2) listen intently and completely (sit down, lean forward, avoid interruptions); (3) agree on what matters most (find out what the patient cares about and incorporate these priorities into the visit agenda); (4) connect with the patient's story (consider life circumstances that influence the patient's health; acknowledge positive efforts; celebrate successes); and (5) explore emotional cues (notice, name, and validate the patient's emotions).
Conclusions and relevance: This mixed-methods study identified 5 practices that have the potential to enhance physician presence and meaningful connection with patients in the clinical encounter. Evaluation and validation of the outcomes associated with implementing the 5 practices is needed, along with system-level interventions to create a supportive environment for implementation.