Is the answer in the question? 4 quick tips in the art of clinical and non-clinical questions

Words by Sarah Yule

Have you ever been asked a question or had a question asked of you that feels like for a moment time is suspended and the sound of the gong fills the time-space continuum? We’ve all had this moment. It’s in these moments, that we often realise that there can be a tremendous amount of potential power in those sentences that end with a “?”. Its these moments that can often necessitate a powerful question audit in our clinical and personal lives! Our daily interactions with patients and colleagues are filled with questions. Let’s make sure we are asking the right ones.

Firstly, let’s explore some strategies to consider in the questions you ask of your patients/clients:

1)      Know your purpose behind the question: the selection of a well delivered closed question or a well delivered open ended question both have their place. Both are very useful depending upon your purpose. Closed ended questions will limit the answers you receive which will have relevance in clinical scenarios. For example, where is hurting the most? How long has it hurt for? Asking the open- ended questions will broaden the potential for answers and will provide you with the opportunity to gain an understanding into what makes your patient tick. For example, how does this heel pain impact your day? Be wary of knowing the difference between an awareness of the purpose of your question and having a preconceived answer and asking leading questions. Try to practice asking specific closed or open ended questions that still allow your patient to produce an organic answer for you.

2)      Summarise back for your patient before asking the next question. Have you ever had a conversation with someone and you can see they’re not quite listening but waiting to get their next sentence in? Its all well and good having a list of questions to get through during your clinical interactions, but you may run the risk of not taking a necessary detour to follow a line of questions that should be pursued. The only way to know when to follow these little detours is in the art of listening. So, if there is a certain element of complexity in this patient/client interaction, summarise your understanding back to them every now and then. People like to know they are understood, and if they aren’t, this provides them with the opportunity to clarify.

Secondly, the questions you ask of yourself in clinical and non-clinical scenarios:

Now, we won’t get too deep into a Socratic discussion about the questions we ask of ourselves in life. The key to clinical and non-clinical development is in the questions we ask and in the answers we seek. Below are some prompt questions that may be of use in your clinical day:

1)      Is what I am doing right now the best use of my time? In any clinical role, there is invariably non-clinical components be it doctors letters, phone calls, professional development presentations… the list can be endless…and the tasks can often be unrelenting. So, it is important to consider what is the most effective use of your time. Prioritize these tasks and consider how many people it may impact, how it will affect your stress levels if it is done at that point in time at the expense of another task and perhaps if it is necessary at all. This question, asked habitually, may inject more efficiency into your day and leverage your time and skills for greater impact.

2)      How could I have done that better? There will always be components of your clinical interactions that you can review and improve upon. It may be in researching further clinical information, it may be in reviewing your interaction and how you responded to the cues you were given. Remember to make sure you do this in a constructive way. Be sure to not berate yourself as that is not the answer to what change needs to occur, although, invariably for some, is the precursor to seeking the answer!  

Questions and the art of asking the right question is an invaluable technique. Interested in maximising your skills in this area? Check out for information in how to maximise your skills.

Sarah Yule