Be incremental. Taking patients from comfortable, familiar territory into that which is uncomfortable or unfamiliar should not be done in one giant leap. Let’s use code status (CS) as an example because of the frequency with which it comes up (though I rarely talk about CS without first understanding the patient’s goals and hopes).
Some patients refuse to talk about CS, so I think incrementally. I ask that they consider talking about CS with me in the future. Very few people refuse to consider something. Two or three days later I ask, "Have you considered talking to me about CS?" That by itself opens up the topic for conversation. In the extremely unusual case where they still won’t engage, I then ask them, "What would it take for you to consider talking to me about this?" More incrementalism.
While this is not nearly an exhaustive list of negotiation techniques, we hope it is stimulating enough that you might be curious enough to learn more on your own and try incorporating this into your practice. If you’re motivated to do so, please feel free to contact us for reading suggestions: E-mail email@example.com.
Dr. Bekanich and Dr. Fredholm are codirectors of Seton Palliative Care, part of the University of Texas Southwestern Residency Programs in Austin.