Friendly questions can have great health benefits

posted by Kathy Everitt on Sunday, February 3, 2019

Woman meeting with dentist

At a recent appointment, my dentist greeted me with what I assumed to be an innocuous question: “What’s going on in your life?” In the interest of full disclosure, he knows I am a risk manager and we have some interesting conversations about what is going on with regard to risk management in his area of practice.

I just put his enquiry down to great people skills – and then I came across a blog from the AAFP (American Academy of Family Practice) in which this question, among others, was listed as part of the BATHE technique. BATHE is an acronym for:

  • Background
  • Affect
  • Trouble
  • Handling
  • Empathy

The BATHE technique has been around since 1993 with the release of “The Fifteen Minute Hour: Efficient and Effective Patient-Centered Consultation Skills” by M.R. Stuart PhD and L.A. Lieberman, MD, MHP. AAFP suggests using the BATHE technique to complement your SOAP notes and better connect with patients. This easy-to-use technique is just four simple questions, followed by a simple empathic response that illustrates you are listening and recognize their situation.

  • “What’s going on in your life?”
  • “How do you feel about that?”
  • “What troubles you the most about that?”
  • “How are you handling that?”
  • “That must be difficult, scary, frustrating, etc.”

Can this technique help you better connect with your patients? We have blogged previously on the importance of incorporating shared decision making into your practice. Shared decision making, in case you missed it, is giving your patient a voice in their healthcare. It’s a way to recognize and discuss patient values and preferences, so that their healthcare fits their priorities, etc.

This BATHE technique seems to align nicely with the shared decision making technique. Like shared decision making – which has been recognized as enhancing the quality of care, better aligning expectations, and better managing costs while improving patient satisfaction – the outcomes of using the BATHE technique may lean toward a better understanding of what is going on in your patient’s life. Additionally, it addresses how those events are affecting them (whether physically or psychologically), how they are handling it, and allows you to offer a healthy dose of human compassion.

To learn more about the BATHE technique and how to use it in your practice, visit:

Blog Author

Kathy Everitt

Senior Risk Management Consultant

Kathy brings with her more than 30 years of professional liabil...

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