Introduce yourself to the patient by informing them immediately who you are and what your role is. Then politely ask the patient for their preferred name and whether they feel comfortable talking to you in the current location. Remind the patient about the confidential nature of the information discussed and to let you know immediately if anything makes them feel uncomfortable.
The opening question will vary depending on the setting and context. In general, the best way to open the interview is to ask an open ended question such as, “What brings you in today?” Or “What can I help you with?” If the setting is an inpatient hospital and you are speaking to a patient who is involuntarily committed then perhaps the better way to open the interview would be to ask something like, “Mr. Jones, what is your understanding of the reason for being brought to the hospital today?” Open ended questions encourage the patient to speak more and allows you to quickly assess the patient’s ability to spontaneously speak. In addition, it gives you a sense of the patients thought process and verbal fluency.
Allow the patient to speak for at least 2-3 minutes before interrupting. Sometimes you will see patients who are able to articulate their thoughts and feelings well enough that you don’t really need to interrupt much as your questions can all be answered by their story. Patients who ramble on or speak tangentially or circumstantially can be very difficult to interview. Try to give the patient at least 2-3 minutes to talk uninterrupted before refocusing.