One-Liners to Convince Patients


Looking for the wisdom of the crowd for the best one-liners that convince your patients of things. I’ve heard a couple recently that I like:

  • From Keeping Up in EM, on antibiotics for URIs for kids: “I don’t think we’re going to need antibiotics this time, we need to save them so when we need them they’re really going to work.”
  • From a Peds EM attending on cough medicines for kids: “Oh, those haven’t been tested in children–and I don’t want your child to be the test!”
  • On teenagers having unprotected sex/without birth control or use it “not always”: “Oh wow, so you’re already looking to have children! Do you want a boy or a girl?” This is usually followed by a blank stare from said teen, who thinks I’m insane. “I just figured you must want kids, since it only takes one time to get pregnant.” (Teenagers require a special kind of approach, I think. Their brains don’t work right.)
  • On undifferentiated abdominal pain: “I don’t know what you had, but I’m glad I was able to make you feel better. About a third of the time we don’t know what caused people’s pain in the Emergency Department, but it’s not life-threatening and people get better. I could lie and make up a diagnosis, but I don’t think that’d help you or me.”
  • On convincing someone to get necessary testing or doing a pelvic/genital/rectal exam they don’t want or think necessary: “I know it might be uncomfortable or inconvenient, but I would be a bad doctor if I missed this or didn’t try to make sure it’s not X.”
  • Would love to hear people’s other tidbits. I still have a difficult time with some of these conversations, especially “I need a CAT scan of my head.” These obviously don’t always work, but they help translate the medicalese into words patients can understand and relate to–and show that you’re on their side.

  1. #1 by Christian - July 22nd, 2010 at 19:37

    Re: CT-Scan of the head s/p trauma, I usually remind them that, by most EBM, someone who is acting normally and has verified absence of LOC will almost never have serious pathology. I use simpler words when I actually say it, though!

  2. #2 by Dr. Angela Mattke, MD - July 23rd, 2010 at 05:32

    I do the same as Christian, but I add that a CT is radiation and that I don’t like to radiate someone’s brain (especially a child) if I don’t really think he or she needs it.

  3. #3 by JR - July 24th, 2010 at 09:55

    I equate it to CXR. I tell the parent that a head CT is the same (in radiation) as a CXR a day for over 2 weeks. For an abd CT that I think is not needed I say a CXR a day for almost 6 months. Everyone knows what a CXR is and they always think getting that many xrays would be bad, so it usually works.

  4. #4 by peter gayed - July 24th, 2010 at 10:44

    For childhood obesity, a peds attending at Yale likes to make growth chart comparisons: “So the thing is, your 9-year-old boy weighs as much as the average 14-year-old girl.”

    Doing a “side-by-side” sometimes gets parents pretty surprised.

  5. #5 by Patti - July 25th, 2010 at 07:46

    For patients who want an unnecessary abd CT, I always tell them it’s the equivalent of getting 450 x rays. They never want one any more.

    If I’m doing a rapid strep, I say I’m checking to see if they need antibiotics. THen when it’s negative, they don’t expect them.

    When smokers come in w/bronchitis and a lingering cough, I tell them for the rest of their life, every time they get a URI this will happen, and in fact, the cough will get worse each time as they continue to smoke and damage their lungs more.

  6. #6 by John - July 25th, 2010 at 19:04

    When foregoing antibiotics, I say ” Well the GOOD news is that you don’t need antibiotics”.

  7. #7 by dridel - July 26th, 2010 at 03:03

    when pts complain about waiting

    “this is not mcdonald’s. it is not first come first serve. sicker patients get seen first and fortunately for you, you are not the sickest one. if you were, you can rest assured i wouldn’t make you wait to evaluate a stable patient.”

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  9. #9 by Disgruntled EM Resident - August 25th, 2010 at 13:11

    Regarding CT Head: “Look, the CT will be very expensive and make the hospital a lot of money. You obviously want it. If you/your child develops a cancer from the radiation, it will not happen for years, and no one will ever be able to attribute to me ordering the CT. You’ll walk out peacefully, and I don’t have to spend this time talking with you. Everybody wins. Except that I took an oath to try to do what is best for you/your child, and I know that is not it.” Paraphrased from Jerome Hoffman.

  10. #10 by Dave - August 25th, 2010 at 18:40

    “Dont drink and drive, cause I’m ( your mom, dad, girlfriend, boyfriend, sister etc are…) out there driving too and I don’t want you to hit me (them).

  11. #11 by GPAP - December 3rd, 2010 at 15:59

    Anybody have something they say to patients to get them to go out and get a colonoscopy? Would be very helpful

  12. #12 by Noreen Span - December 27th, 2011 at 22:25

    Patients are quite hard to be convinced but if you will be persistent, they will give in in the end.

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