Building a strong doctor-patient relationship takes time, communication, and commitment. Patients seek out doctors who respect them, listen to them carefully, and provide them with quality care. Doctors, on the other hand, have a more complex responsibility towards their patients. Every decision they make must be made with close consideration of the patient’s viewpoint. Improving a patient’s experience and health outcome results from closing the gap between what they want and what they receive.
Listen and empathize with your patients
Start by encouraging your patient to tell his or her story. Let them, through their own words, share their struggles and triumphs. Don’t review their chart, look through emails, or take calls while they are talking—just listen. Offer them support and comfort through well-timed questions and frequent eye contact. It is also important to identify their concerns and answer any questions they might have. Empathy means understanding your patient’s experiences and emotions while maintaining an objective standpoint.
Educate and reassure your patients
Educating your patients involves guiding them to better understand and manage their conditions. Provide them with written materials such as pamphlets or appropriate website links that best explain the issues regarding their health. Reassure them you will do everything you can to provide them with the best possible treatment. It will put them at ease knowing you are committed to them and that you have their best interests at heart. In many cases, family members are also included in patient teaching; they play a vital role in healthcare management.
Shifting gears from patient to patient can be overwhelming. During the first appointment with a patient, coordinate your agendas. Sometimes, a patient may just come in for a routine check-up; other times, they may be seeking a specific diagnosis or treatment for their illness. In any case, they deserve your attention, and you should be prepared to answer any calls, messages, or emails your patient might send you. Moreover, set aside time to personally reach out to patients who may be in need of a little extra attention.
Help your patients take responsibility
Many patients are vulnerable when it comes to discussing their conditions. Some have difficulty managing painful symptoms, sustaining their roles at work or at home, and even admitting they are sick. As a doctor, you must recognize such difficulties and take action. Talk to your patients as a life coach and highlight the importance of maintaining a healthy lifestyle. Shift the responsibility to the patient in acknowledging their role in their own recovery.
Be clear and concise
When it comes right down to it, communication is a key factor to any healthy relationship. Lack of good communication can be frustrating for both patients and doctors. Most often, patients may feel overwhelmed with the amount of medical information presented to them. “Your test results came back. Your EKG is abnormal,” would probably get you a “Come again?” response. This can cause your patients to misinterpret their diagnosis and seek out help from another medical professional. Avoid such situations by establishing awareness of the problem and addressing it. Instead, try using common terminology and ask them questions to make sure they understand you. As a doctor, you have the responsibility to give advice to your patients, but the final word rests with them.
Document each patient’s journey
Keeping a private journal can help you keep track of changes and monitor the progress each of your patients has made along the way. It will allow you to reflect upon each patient’s situation (medical history, test results, medications, vital signs, contact information, etc.) and identify the best approach to their treatment plan. Advise your patients to keep journals as well. They can keep a record of significant information, such as appointment dates, medication dosages, progress details, and even particular questions they might have. More importantly, journals are a way for your patients to deal with certain events without stress or fear.
The key to improving the doctor-patient relationship is communication. However, communication can also be non-verbal. If your patient is squirming in their seat, biting their nails, or fidgeting with their hands, chances are they feel uncomfortable and nervous. Encourage them to talk to you about their interests or family life to put them at ease during their visit. Building patient loyalty starts with recognizing your patient from their condition. Sit down next to them, listen attentively, and make an effort to see things from their point of view. Use the information you are given about their way of life/personal experiences to help them move along the road to recovery. Remember, all any patient wants is to be heard, understood, and respected.
The doctor-patient relationship has been and remains a central part of healthcare. It is a two-way street that blends together three main elements: communication, trust, and respect. Communication leads to trust and trust leads to respect. Patients provide doctors with a window into their lives and personal experiences, while doctors provide patients with support and high-quality care. A positive relationship with your patient can have a great impact on their health outcome. In order to meet their expectations, re-establish yourself as a medical professional and a mentor every time one of your patients walks through your door.
- Build your 'brand' through patient communication.
- Show commitment towards treating your patients.
- Remember to document and acknowledge your patient's journeys.