Opening Lines

As anyone who has come to see Dr Charles will know, the first question you will hear from me is “What can I do for you?” It’s almost automatic, a security blanket of a question that comes out even when I’m pretty sure I know exactly what the person in the seat in front of me has come for. (I find using that line is better than anything that assumes I know what the person is there for – what if I’m wrong – I don’t want to impinge on my patient’s agenda.)

I have been encouraging the students I teach to come up with some set lines that they can rely on and use in their consultations, and last week 2 enterprising and keen members of the group came in with a list of questions they had heard used. These ranged from “What has brought you in today?” to “What seems to be the problem?” and we discussed the various merits and flaws in all of them. (For the record, I’m pretty sure I successfully prevented 12 doctors-to-be from ever using the line “What seems to be the problem?” and thus feel the tutorial was a success from my point of view!)

Extending this a little further, I thought I’d see what was asked in other rooms at Hampton Bayside Medical Centre. I asked the eight doctors who were around on Friday what they said. The first obvious thing to strike me was that everyone knew exactly what lines they had. Some of us have a couple, but we all have our opening lines. It also struck me how, although they are very similar, different doctors put in different emphasis (for example one uses the word ‘may’ instead of ‘can,’ and some say ‘today’ at then end of the line). Here they are:

  • “What can I do for you?” [2 doctors]
  • “What can I do for you today?”
  • “So what can I do for you?”
  • “What brings you here today?”
  • “How can I help you?”
  • “How can I help you today?”
  • “How may I help you today?”
  • “What’s the problem?”
  • “What’s the problem today?”
  • “What’s news?
  • “What are we doing today?”

What do you think works (and doesn’t work)?

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