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Let’s get personal

5 tips for connecting with patients and their families


Consider incorporating these five tips into your patient care process.

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Smartphones, smart watches, digital personal assistants, mobile data terminals and artificial intelligence are everywhere in our business. We live and work in a digital world. Yet, for all the great things this technology does for us, it sometimes feels like we spend more time interacting with computers than with human beings.

So, how do we keep our interpersonal communication skills sharp? How do we deliver the personalized care that our patients deserve?

Here are five tips to add a personal touch to your patient care.

1. Positive touch

One thing that it seems many new EMS professionals find to be challenging is getting over the awkwardness of touching someone you don’t know. However, before long, it becomes second nature for most healthcare providers.

Things like checking a radial pulse, feeling for skin temperature or palpating a patient’s abdomen can be a daily occurrence. It would be difficult to properly assess and treat a patient without touching them. However, this type of touch is, by definition, clinical.

Appropriate physical contact has been shown to decrease anxiety and even boost immunity [1]. A meaningful, caring touch of a patient’s arm or shoulder, accompanied by a heartfelt smile, can show that you sincerely care about their condition and wellbeing.

2. Use your patient’s name

In “Romeo and Juliet,” Shakespeare famously wrote, “What’s in a name?” The character implied that the name you use for something or someone doesn’t matter. In this situation, I would have to disagree.

First, introduce yourself by name and ask for your patient’s name. Then, address the patient by their preferred name throughout your encounter. Placeholders like “sir” or “ma’am” and terms of endearment, like “sweetie” or “partner” may be tempting, but stick to the respectful use of the patient’s name – such as Mr. or Mrs. Jones.

For years, customer service and business gurus have realized the value of using the customer’s name. People like to hear their names spoken. Hearing one’s own name has been shown to increase brain function in the medial frontal cortex – the same area activated when the person thinks about their personal qualities [2].

3. Ask a question

As EMS providers, we probably ask hundreds of questions throughout the call. Questions about medical history and your patient’s current complaint are essential.

Once you have all the pertinent questions answered, and if time permits, consider asking another kind of question. Ask a question that can start a conversation. Then, actively listen to their response. For example, many elderly patients display their family photographs in the hallways. I like to ask about one of those photos. Questions like “Who is this in the Army uniform?” or “When was this picture taken?” Often, these questions can cause your patient to open up. You may learn interesting facts about their life and find you have some things in common.


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4. Family matters

Think about what your patient may be experiencing when they have to call 911. Pain, fear, anxiety, uncertainty and panic could all be genuine feelings for your patient. But don’t forget, your patient’s family could be experiencing all these same emotions. It is our duty to relieve suffering, not only in our patients, but also in those who love them.

Speak to the family on scene and explain to them what is happening. Include them in your treatment plan and keep them informed. Knowing that their family participates in the care plan can ease your patient’s mind and give them one less thing to worry about. Before you leave the scene, consider asking the family if there is anything more you can do for them before transporting their loved one. Something as simple as answering one of their questions can put their mind at ease.

5. Leave them with a smile

First impressions can be lasting, but so can final impressions. Whether you were with your patient for a long or short transport, you have hopefully developed a trusting caregiver/patient relationship. Consider how you want to end your time with your patient. Delivering your patient, transferring care and walking out without a word could leave that patient less than satisfied with their experience. However, an appropriate touch of the shoulder coupled with sincere wishes for the patient’s future conveys that you are interested in the whole health of that person and not just in doing your job and getting out.

Opportunity for personal touches may be limited by time and patient conditions. So, when you have the opportunity, consider incorporating some of these strategies to build a connection with your patients. EMS is a service, which means to serve. Sometimes that requires thinking beyond physical ailments and treating the whole person. No computer can do that.


  1. Field, T. (2010). Touch for socioemotional and physical well-being: A review. Developmental Review, 30(4), 367-383.
  2. Carmody, D. P., & Lewis, M. (2006). Brain activation when hearing one’s own and others’ names. Brain Research, 1116(1), 153-158.

Jason Dyess is a nationally registered paramedic with over 20 years of experience in fire-based and third-service EMS. He is a certified Texas EMS and AHA instructor with 10-plus years in EMS education and leadership. Jason earned an associate degree in EMS from Galveston College and is a graduate of Fitch & Associates Ambulance Service Manager Program. He has spent the last 17 years with City of Paris EMS in Paris, Texas, and currently serves as EMS Assistant Chief. He has been supported in his EMS career by his two sons and his wife of 22 years.