Eye contact is something we admire in a person. It shows respect and tells us that the person we are speaking to is paying attention to what we are saying. It is easy to understand why a patient would be frustrated with a doctor who is unwilling to look them in the eye while discussing their health.
This is even more of a challenge with the inception of electronic health records (EHR). While typing away the responses given by patients to the questions asked, it can be easy to forget to look up. The intimacy of the doctor/patient relationship requires eye contact to reinforce (or develop) a feeling of trust. Eye contact also shows that you, the physician, are truly interested in their answer.
The typical set up for doctors using EHR is the patient sitting on the table and the doctor sitting across the room with their laptop on the counter. Now remember how your patient conversations were laid out prior to EHR. You probably sat across from your patient and made eye contact. Consider positioning the laptop or desktop computer in such a way that it does not separate you from the patient. One way to achieve this is to form a triangle shape with the patient and provider sitting side by side and the computer in front. This will allow you to have a more engaged discussion about their health.
Another important way to connect with patients is through emotions. Communication is not just about the words said, but also about how they are said. The emotions that come along with the words may tell you more about the problem then the patient has let on. Eye contact will help clue you in on this.
It is the job of the doctor to figure out what the problem is and try to fix it. Take the time to look at your patients and see how that transforms the patient experience. Patients selected you as their provider for a reason. Before your patients leave, reinforce their decision by looking them in the eye and thanking them for coming in.