Dig a Litter Deeper


Effectively interviewing patients in clinic goes beyond the 10 questions we learn in school. It is a skill that gets honed over years, countless missteps, and glimmers of grace when you “get it”.

Here’s something I’ve found useful. When a patient says that they are doing better, it’s helpful to not completely believe them. Partly because sometimes they are just being nice. And partly because the word “better” is meaningless. 

You’ll get more clinically useful information if you ask, “How do you know you’re better? What is it you’re paying attention to that lets you know things are different?”

These questions do a number of things. First, you get detailed information about what has changed, and what has not. Secondly, when a person describes how they are better, they are setting that thought and image down in their own mind, in their own voice. It helps them to move beyond that thing you probably hear all the time of “how do I know this isn’t just in my head?” Finally, these questions offer you, the practitioner, a better idea of how they process information, what they are attending to in their environment, and in themselves. 

So the next time your patient says “I’m better,” be sure to dig a little deeper.