Pediatric geneticist credits active listening and consistent care for resolving problems and improving patient outcomes.
Paul Levy has spent his career solving medical mysteries. To do so, he leverages advanced genetic sequencing tools—but he says a measured, methodical approach to patient care is critical.
"Over my career, I've learned to be thorough in the sense that I do the same thing in the same way all the time," says Levy, M.D., pediatric geneticist, Children's Hospital at Montefiore (CHAM) in Bronx, New York. "And no matter how much pressure I'm getting to move faster, I try to listen carefully—it's important to really understand what the patient's trying to tell me."
Thorough processes reveal unseen issues
Levy says it's important to resist the temptation to make assumptions and skip steps in the patient care process. He recalls one patient who was referred to him for genetic testing, but his physical examination revealed a large tumor.
"The referral was pretty straightforward and had nothing to do with the patient's abdomen, but as I was examining her, I found quite a huge mass in her abdomen," Levy says. "I sent her down for an ultrasound, and she had a Wilms tumor."
Following a consistent routine and conducting examinations in the same manner—every time—can prevent a health care provider from missing anything important, Levy says.
Use experience to improve listening skills
Listening carefully to patients is "the most important skill for any doctor," according to Levy. Experienced doctors have likely already seen a wide variety of patient ailments, but he says it's crucial to use that knowledge to inform further probing.
"Maybe you've seen this before, but I think the experience helps you ask the right questions because you're listening," Levy says. "Then things start to unravel, and you get a clearer picture as to what's going on."
Read more about Levy and how he solves his patients' medical mysteries with a personal touch.