Tips for Maintaining Good Patient Relationships
Tips for Maintaining Good Patient Relationships
August 25, 2022 by eMedEvents

An important aspect of the overall healthcare experience is the interaction between patients and medical professionals. Like every relationship, its success depends on the cooperation of both parties. When a patient is actively involved in their own healthcare, this can not only promote positive interactions with their physicians but improve the efficacy of their treatment, too. As a physician, you can form and construct more accurate diagnoses and treatment plans when you have your patients’ trust.

Here are 13 techniques to help promote a positive rapport between you and your patients.

1. Get to know your patients and their proclivities.

First and foremost, no patient enjoys being hurried through their appointments, and doing this deprives you of a vital opportunity to get to know them. When your goal is to make your patient feel at ease around you, that involves treating them as an individual person—not a walking medical condition. When asking questions, try to create a conversational atmosphere, not that of a Q&A session, where your patient feels their own input will be welcome; this will encourage them to be open with you. Remain understanding and aware of your patients’ feelings; depending on the reason for their appointment, they may be confused or scared. Kind reassurance is the key to building and sustaining positive relationships with your patients. Finally, introductions are important; always take the time for them and work to remember your patients’ names.

2. Make preparations for each appointment.

The first step should always be to review your patients’ charts before they walk into your office. While patients do not want to be rushed through appointments, they also do not want to feel as though their time is being wasted, which can absolutely happen if you ask for information that they have already given you. When your patient has arrived, a good starting point can be to inquire about the occasion of their visit. Remember to be conversational, not interrogative, so that your patients feel their concerns are being heard and considered.

3. Pay attention.

Depending on the individual, your patients may often need something as relatively simple as someone willing to listen to their worries concerning their health. While they may not be medical professionals themselves, the importance of taking their concerns into account cannot be understated. Furthermore, this can provide you with the opportunity to initiate a dialogue about treatment options, long-term health plans, or the need for follow-up consultations with specialists. As a physician, you have a busy schedule and rarely have time to speak as in-depth as you may like with your patients; with what little time you have with them, your patients will appreciate you merely listening and offering advice.

4. Remember their individual circumstances.

The more you converse with your patients, the better you will become at anticipating their medical needs without them having to ask. This ties heavily into the good listening practices mentioned above. For example, if your patient mentions a friend or family member getting the flu, you can suggest a vaccination to them when flu season comes around. Your patients will appreciate your concern for their health—and the fact that you remembered what they said.

5. Tell the truth.

Honesty is incredibly important when it comes to interacting with your patients. It will never be in anyone’s best interests to deceive them when it comes to their health. You may think encouraging hope will benefit them in the long run, perhaps by implying that their chances of recovery are better than they are, but this will never be the case. Lying will damage your relationship with them and will actively prevent them from making informed decisions regarding their health. Even if the truth is painful, it is your responsibility as their physician to be honest and open about their recovery, treatment, and necessary lifestyle changes.

6. Work together.

“Shared decision-making” is a collaborative approach to healthcare in which patients and physicians work together to determine the best course of action regarding treatment. Alongside their doctor, the patient participates in discussions regarding treatment options and, after weighing the benefits and drawbacks of each one, decides how they would like to proceed. Instead of making every healthcare decision alone, on behalf of your patients, you can both bolster their trust in you and help them feel more in control of their condition if you engage in shared decision-making with them. Furthermore, patients who have chosen treatment plans in this manner are more likely to adhere to them, which is a key component when it comes to improving outcomes.

7. Maintain your composure.

Between their personal lives, hospitals, doctors’ visits, and the condition for which they are seeking treatment, your patients can be under an immense amount of stress that you may not always know about. They rely on their medical professionals to be composed and comforting—something stable and reliable for them to lean upon amidst their anxiety. Despite your personal feelings, you must take pains to put your patients first for the full duration of their time with you, and this goes beyond their physical wellbeing. In the event that you have to share bad news with a patient, it is essential that you acknowledge their feelings and empathize with them to the best of your ability.

8. Direct them to other medical professionals, as necessary.

Always transfer a patient’s care to someone else if they require assistance with something that you are unable to provide. Take the time to introduce your patient to other healthcare professionals, which can improve your own rapport with them as well as jumpstart their relationship with their new physician. Your patient’s health is paramount, even if you are not directly involved in safeguarding it anymore.

9. Provide them with reliable educational resources.

If you cannot, in good faith, speak knowledgeably on a given topic (and your patient does not require the help of a medical specialist), feel free to direct your patient to reliable resources to help them learn more. For example: if a person with diabetes wants to learn how to make nutritious meals, you may point them in the direction of websites that provide good recipes or useful advice for people with diabetes; alternatively, you can suggest that they contact a dietician, a certified diabetes educator, or a diabetes support group.

10. Follow up.

Maintaining contact with your patients is one of the most considerate things you can do for them, outside of your medical responsibilities. Calling them two or three days after an appointment to check in—even if they see you for something minor, like a cold—can mean the world to them. Follow-ups are especially important following major outpatient occurrences, such as surgery or stays at hospitals unrelated to your practice. Additionally, it can prompt your patients to mention relevant, minor side effects they are experiencing when they might have refrained otherwise.

11. Communicate with patients outside of appointments.

With the relatively recent rise of digital communication and telehealth services, it is more important than ever for physicians to practice good communication with their patients—even if they have not scheduled an appointment. Make an effort to respond to patients’ emails as soon as possible, if not by the end of the day on which you received them.

12. Go the extra mile when possible.

When your patients need you, try to be there for them as often as possible. This includes before or after major outpatient procedures that you are not directly involved in. If your patient is reaching out, they are displaying trust in you as their physician; going the extra mile for them may provide them with peace of mind, at the very least.

13. Establish boundaries.

At times, patients may lose sight of the fact that they have a personal responsibility when it comes to maintaining their health. Persistent phone calls, unscheduled office visits, and excessive expectations for you as a medical professional are all examples of poor patient habits that place undue and inappropriate stress upon you. It is essential for physicians to establish professional boundaries with their patients—without demeaning or disrespecting them. Always ensure that your patients know the times in which you are available to them for interaction, and—with the exception of medical emergencies—avoid encouraging poor habits by responding to patients who contact you outside of those times. A good physician-patient relationship must be based on mutual respect.

 

Alongside these tips, there are a few other tidbits to keep in mind when trying to foster a patient’s trust in you as a professional:

  • It takes time and effort to develop a positive and effective patient relationship.
  • Always remember to practice good bedside manners.
  • If possible, create and maintain an access portal for patients that is fully integrated with your EHR. Not only will it save them time, but it will simplify the means by which they can access information from clinic staff.
  • Allow ample time for every appointment to avoid rushing your patients.
  • Be mindful of your body language; you may be communicating to your patients that you are unapproachable or indifferent without realizing it.
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