Sometimes, the most challenging obstacle a physician can face is establishing a strong connection with their patient.
The benefits of a good physician-patient relationship are numerous—higher patient satisfaction, better diagnostic accuracy, increased compliance to treatment plans and improved outcomes, to name a few—but breaking down the barrier between clinicians and patients can be difficult.
Here are five ways physicians can build better patient relationships.
1. Demonstrate Empathy and Sympathy
While you may not be in the exact position as your patient, you have, at some point, been the one receiving a diagnosis instead of the one giving it. If you’re delivering bad news, show your patient that you understand his or her concerns and can appreciate how they’re feeling. If you have a personal experience that relates to their situation, share your story. It can help them feel more connected to you and view you as not only a doctor but also as a person.
2. Don't Appear Rushed
Every minute of a physician’s schedule is usually accounted for from the moment they walk into the clinic to the moment they walk out. While your full plate may have you feeling pressed for time, try not to show it. If you seem rushed, patients will feel less important—as if you’re just trying to get them in and out.
Not only can this impact patient satisfaction, but it can also affect the level of care you provide. If patients feel like they have limited time to describe their symptoms, they may not tell you everything and focus only on their primary complaint. Without the full picture, it will be more difficult to choose the most appropriate treatment plan that addresses every symptom.
3. Focus On the Positive, Not Just the Negative
Some conditions can be treated with an antibiotic or analgesic, but others require substantial lifestyle changes. Patients will likely resist major alterations to their day-to-day routine, especially if it’s something they’ve been doing for years—for example, smoking or unhealthy eating habits.
Rather than focusing only on the negative consequences of maintaining their current lifestyle, concentrate on the benefits of these changes and how they can improve the patient’s quality of life. Approach the conversation as an advocate who is concerned with the patient’s well-being. When you present the changes in a more positive light, your patients should be more open to your recommendations, which will lead to better compliance.
4. Practice Shared Decision Making
Shared Decision Making is a collaborative approach to healthcare where physicians and patients work together to develop the best treatment plan. Instead of the provider making all care decisions on behalf of the patient, the patient is involved in discussions about various treatment options, reviews the pros and cons of each and then decides how they would like to proceed.
When patients take an active role, they feel more in control and are more likely to stick to their plan of care, which can lead to improved outcomes. The patient will also value your decision to treat them as a partner.
5. Recognize Cultural Differences
While some behaviors are perfectly acceptable in one culture, they could be considered extremely rude in another. Physicians must recognize that each culture has its own distinct customs and adjust the way they interact with patients based on these norms. Taking a cookie-cutter approach to conversations with patients could result in a patient being offended and leaving your practice.
However, physicians who consider a patient’s unique culture, values and beliefs during interactions will be able to build better rapport, making their patients feel appreciated and respected.
At the heart of each of the above tips is the Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” When you place yourself in your patient’s shoes, you’ll be able to ensure you’re providing the highest quality care and that your patient has a positive experience at your clinic.
Once your patients are taken care of, it’s time to focus on your clinic. Discover how to make your clinic more efficient with our free eBook, Stop the Budget Bleed: How Private-Practice Physicians Can Reduce Spend.