EMS LEGAL TIPS & ADVICE
FIRST & LAST IMPRESSIONS
Improve patient care & reduce the risk of a lawsuit
By Stephen R. Wirth, Esq., EMT-P
Making a good first impression is essential to establishing posi- tive rapport with your patient.
Within the first few seconds of that encounter, most patients will make a value judgment
about whether they like you and whether they
think you’re competent to care for them.
You don’t get a second chance to make a great
Studies show that people, includ-
ing patients, are most likely to
remember the beginning and the
end of an encounter. This is called
the “serial positioning effect.”
That’s why, in addition to a posi-
tive first impression, a positive end-
ing encounter with the patient is also
very important. Taking a moment or
two to say goodbye to the patient
and thank them for the opportunity
to be of service leaves them with a
positive impression of you.
With the serial positioning effect, the things
that happen in the middle of an encounter tend
to be a “blur,” and details are often forgotten.
From a risk management standpoint, that
can be very good. It means that if you’re nice
to the patient when arriving on scene and
nice to them when you leave, the patient is
likely to forget about the bumps (i.e., mistakes) that may have occurred in the middle—
like that IV you missed! Typically, patients
won’t sue you if they like you—even if you do
Here are nine tips for making a good first
impression that will set the stage for a positive interaction with the patient—and reduce
the risk of a lawsuit:
1. Recharge yourself. Take a deep breath
before you enter the situation to clear your
mind and to be ready to focus on the patient.
Tell yourself you’re going to make the patient
feel better about the situation they’re in.
2. Check your breath. As obvious as this is,
bad breath can turn people off and sets up a
barrier to communication. Always carry gum
and mints and use them.
3. Have a conf ident physical approach. Move
with purpose; look like you want to get to
where you’re going. Stand up straight with a
confident gait as you approach the room. Start
looking at faces to assess the situation and use
a positive, clear tone of voice when speaking.
4. Look them in the eye. Focus on the patient.
It helps you assess their emotions. It will also
allow you to detect subtle changes in emotion,
pain levels and distress.
5. Make an immediate introduction. Make
sure you introduce yourself; explain who you
are and why you’re there. Avoid using clichés like “honey,” “sweetie,” or “buddy” when
speaking to the patient. Ask the patient if it’s
okay to call them by their first name. Acknowledge family members, too; they may have valuable information about the patient’s past and
present medical history that can help you.
6. Smile. A warm smile relaxes the other
person. Smiling and maintaining good eye
contact immediately upon approaching the
patient demonstrates a sincere willingness to
help. It also conveys that you’re approachable
and may encourage the patient to talk to you.
Studies show that even forcing yourself to
smile can have positive physiological effects
and help you with your own stress levels.
7. Use appropriate touch. Patients are often
anxious, distressed and in pain. They need
reassurance that you recognize their anxiety.
A gentle touch conveys that you’re sensitive
to and understand their concern.
8. Engage in some small talk. Nonmedical gestures and questions can help relieve
patient anxiety. Commenting positively on
the patient’s family members, the dog or cat,
or other things you observe in the
room shows that you have an interest in the patient and can help take
the patient’s mind off their distress.
When your patient’s stress is managed, it’s easier for you to assess and
9. Always be attentive and courteous. Paying attention to the patient
and being courteous at all times
makes the patient feel that they’re
the center of attention. Using active
listening skills can aid in the communications process.
Always be courteous to the patient, even if
the patient isn’t courteous to you. As healthcare professionals, we should never let the
patient’s poor demeanor negatively affect how
we treat them. JEMS
Stephen R. Wirth, Esq., EMT-P, is an EMS
attorney and founding partner of Page, Wolf-
berg & Wirth, which represents EMS agencies
throughout the United States. He was one
of central Pennsylvania’s first paramedics
and has worked as a firefighter, EMT, paramedic, flight paramedic, EMS instructor, fire officer and EMS executive.
Pro Bono is written by the attorneys
at Page, Wolfberg & Wirth, The
National EMS Industry Law Firm.
Visit the firm’s website at www.pwwemslaw.com or find them
on Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn.
Learn more from Steve Wirth at the
EMS Today Conference, Feb. 21–23, in
Charlotte, N.C. EMS Today.com
Studies show that people,
including patients, are
most likely to remember
the beginning & the
end of an encounter.