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5 magical ways to get your patient to comply

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The Art of EMS
by Steve Whitehead

5 magical ways to get your patient to comply

If you want to get things from people, you need to shift your focus onto what you give them

By Steve Whitehead

 "I couldn’t believe that Steve got this guy to go to the hospital. We had been trying to get him to go for about 20 minutes and then Steve just steps in and…"

I get that sort of thing a lot. The providers I work with are often amazed that I can get difficult patients to comply with transport or treatments when they had previously been resistant to those ideas.

How do I get people to agree to the things that I request of them?  Would you like to learn my secret? Here it is. If you want to get things from people, you need to shift your focus onto what you give them.

That’s the special ingredient, the "secret sauce" if you will. While everyone else is focused on what I got from the patient, I'm focused on what I'm giving them.

Would you like to be more influential? I can help you start right now. Beginning immediately, start giving people gifts. We are hard wired to reciprocate when people give us gifts. It’s hard wired into our human DNA.

When we receive gifts, we start imagining ways that we can give something back. We are far less likely to conflict with people who freely give us valuable gifts.

Now I don't mean that I want you to run out and go shopping. The social gifts you’re going to start giving people are completely free. They are also rare which makes them all the more valuable.

Here are a few gifts that you can start practicing giving people. The better you get at giving these gifts, the more you will find your influence will grow. The very next chance you get, try giving some of these things away:

Paying attention to someone is harder than it may sound on the surface. We actually rarely give another individual our undivided attention.

Even in our most valuable relationships we tend to divide our attention between the person who is talking to us and our cell phone, our to-do list, our pre-formulated responses and a million other things we tend to devote mental energy toward instead of really paying attention to the person who is speaking.

It’s a powerful thing to be able to tell another person that you not only understand what they are saying, but that you can understand why the world might look that way through their eyes. When we are able to make statements like, "That must have been awful" or, "I can imagine that must be difficult," you are referencing how the world must look and feel through their eyes and experiences. Empathy is a powerful gift. It immediately focuses the conversation back on the person speaking.

A genuine smile
We use our smile so infrequently in EMS. Perhaps it’s because we take our jobs so seriously. It's true that we have a serious job, but it’s rare to encounter a patient who couldn’t benefit from a genuine smile.

I imagine myself in a dire situation, perhaps trapped in a vehicle, injured, scared and in pain. I would hope that the emergency provider that crawled inside the vehicle with me was able to give me a kindhearted smile and a calm introduction. Your smile is a gift. You can do the same.

When we get caught up in our authoritative roles in EMS we can lose sight of the need to treat the people we serve with respect. Respect is demonstrated when we approach our patient with a sense of reverence and honor for their role in the emergency.

We exist to serve the citizenship. The patient is our central priority and for that, they deserve our respect. Respect is a gift that we give our patents the moment we encounter them. But it also extends to their homes, their property or their individuality (whether they are present or not.)

Recognize that there is tremendous value in being a human-being. The value of the patient is the value of our service. (I, for one, feel our service is extremely valuable.) When we recognize that the individuals we serve are inherently valuable we see our obligation to preserve their dignity. In our rush to provide urgent care, dignity is often one of the first things we disregard.

When the patient feels stripped of dignity, simple gestures of kindness, a reassuring hand, the respectful use of a name, a warm blanket or bringing along a favorite pillow, can go a long way to give that dignity back.

Are you ready to see your influence grow? This is a just short list of the gifts that you can start giving people to help develop your influence and rapport. Before you know it, people will be amazed at the things that you get from some of your most stoic patients. But you'll know better.

About the author

Steve Whitehead, NREMT-P, is a firefighter/paramedic with the South Metro Fire Rescue Authority in Colo. and the creator of blog The EMT Spot. He is a primary instructor for South Metro's EMT program and a lifelong student of emergency medicine. Reach him through his blog at or at

The comments below are member-generated and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of or its staff. If you cannot see comments, try disabling privacy and ad blocking plugins in your browser. All comments must comply with our Member Commenting Policy.
Paul Young Paul Young Friday, December 28, 2012 3:59:21 AM Outstanding article, gets right to the meat of the problem. I plan to use it teaching as well as personally.
Brian O'Byrne Brian O'Byrne Friday, December 28, 2012 5:16:25 AM Excellent advice with a bit of practice I could master those techniques thanks Steve keep them coming
Greg Friese Greg Friese Friday, December 28, 2012 6:11:48 AM Once again, it turns out that being nice to people works. Great article Steve Whitehead.
Chris Cannon Chris Cannon Friday, December 28, 2012 7:39:40 AM During my EMT classes I talk about the clip from Road House where Patrick Swayze is orienting his bouncer crew: "Be nice. If he calls you a bad name, be nice. If you need help, you and your partner will both be nice." Dated, but good.
Steve Whitehead Steve Whitehead Friday, December 28, 2012 9:18:14 AM @Paul Great, I'm glad you liked it. @Brian They all take time. Pick the one that resonates most with you and start there. We can spend our careers developing these habits. @Chris, I liked that movie. And I especially liked that scene. It remains good advice. @Greg...timeless lessons.
Jerry Stuefloten Jerry Stuefloten Friday, December 28, 2012 10:53:34 AM Well done, Steve! I'm proud to see that you are still teaching. Passing on to others what you have experienced is a very effective technique. Keep up the good work.
James Hoffman James Hoffman Sunday, December 30, 2012 12:47:17 PM Steve, great quick tips that everyone should be able to take away and use NOW. I remember the Boot camp we did on Patient Rapport that covered this and a lot more.
Steve Whitehead Steve Whitehead Sunday, December 30, 2012 2:50:20 PM So much of my classroom teaching style can be traced back to the great teachers who influenced me early on and inspired me to want to move into that role. Thank you for being one of those teachers Jerry.
Steve Whitehead Steve Whitehead Sunday, December 30, 2012 2:50:58 PM I do remember that Jim. That was a fun one. I was on that night.
Deb Wilson Deb Wilson Thursday, January 03, 2013 9:51:58 AM Thank you for sharing your advice, Steve Whitehead.
Lynne Curtis Gudes Lynne Curtis Gudes Monday, January 07, 2013 9:26:05 AM Steve, you are so right. I try to teach these concepts to my students, but I love the way you put it. I had the privilege of spending 7 wks in ICU. I came out of the experience with an even better understanding of the pt's point of view. When two medics from a service we interface with frequently transferred me to another facility, I couldn't speak to them because of an uncapped trach. They said to the new staff, "Take good care of her, she's one of ours." My confidence level bounced up, I felt so good. How we treat pts matters enormously. Great article!
Azel Hill Beckner Azel Hill Beckner Wednesday, January 23, 2013 6:43:51 AM The staff at the nurseing home could learn from this example of bedside manners.