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Top 7 tips for better doctor-patient relationship

Ways to improve doctor-patient relationship in the Healthcare industry

The healthcare industry is moving towards a more customer-centered approach. And rightly so. The demand of patients from their physicians is more than ever and so is the importance of trust in healthcare. When patients visit physicians, they are usually in a very vulnerable state. It is imperative at those times, for physicians, to build trust and confidence in them.

“Often physicians don’t understand what their patients want from them. It’s really quite simple — the first thing patients want from their physician is to be respected and listened carefully to,” says William Maples, MD, executive director and chief experience officer of The Institute for Healthcare Excellence.

The importance of trust in healthcare, or a lack thereof, is quite easily visible. Over 50 percent of high blood pressure patients do not take their medicine as prescribed. Tuberculosis and diabetes control is still a problem due to insufficient medication periods. Many times, the decision to take a pill depends on the doctor-patient relationship.

“If you’re not really engaged with somebody and don’t trust them, and they recommended that you do something, would you do it? Would you follow through?” Dr. Maples says.

The key to becoming a better doctor is to build a solid connection with your patients. “Patients who have good relationships with their doctors have better health outcomes,” according to a study conducted by doctors at Massachusetts General Hospital. Here is a list of the top 7 ways by which doctors can work towards a better doctor-patient relationship.


7 tips for better doctor-patient relationship


1) Practicing presence of mind:

A doctor’s day may be filled with innumerable tasks and appointments demanding his full attention. Not being fully present at the moment can lead to disastrous outcomes. A substantial share of errors in the healthcare industry can be attributed to a breakdown in communication. The results can be as serious as a wrong procedure or subtle as a patient’s dissatisfaction.

The increased complexity of communication in health care is not something new. Effective teams are known to overcome complexities by practicing presence and mindfulness. For example, they take a moment to calm down and compose themselves before entering an exam room.

Many formal and informal practices of teaching presence and mindfulness are easily available.


2) Reflective listening:

The degree to which patients can tell their own stories affects outcomes.

Reflective listening starts with actively listening to what the patient has to say. It is about not discouraging the patient by looking at records, emails, phones or reviewing charts. And most importantly, you need to reflect what you listened back to the patient.

This technique has proved to be quite valuable in getting the most information out of the patient, the first step to an effective diagnosis.


3) Handling emotions:

Teaching how to read and respond to different types of emotions is quite an uphill task, but one that is very valuable. More so in the healthcare industry, which meets its fair share of frustrated or complex patients. Knowing how to identify and address emotional variable is necessary to become a better doctor.

Once you take time to recognize an emotion, tackling it becomes easy with this tool developed by Timothy Poulton, M.D.

The tool is called “PEARLS”:

  • Partnership: “Let’s tackle this together.”
  • Empathy: “That sounds hard.”
  • Apology/Acknowledge: “I wish I had better news.” “Sorry I was late.”
  • Respect: “That was tough. You handled it well.”
  • Legitimization: “Anyone would be (confused, sad, irritated) by this situation.”
  • Support: “I’ll be here when/if you need me.”


4) Realizing how patient experience impacts quality, safety, and efficiency:

The stakeholders need to realize how the impact of patient experience affects both patient experience scores and the culture of the organization.

As the healthcare industry moves towards a technological future, it needs to address the patients’ needs for a change. The healthcare industry needs to transform from a “provider-centered approach to a patient-centered, team-based approach”.

Putting the patient at the center of every decision will improve their experience, as well as their outcomes.


5) Identify and promote physician leadership:

“The desire to help others, to improve a patient’s life, is really at their core.”

The best way to start a successful doctor-patient relationship program through communication is by identifying physician leaders within one’s self. They are the ones who can ignite the spark in any communication-based tool.

“Only respected physician and allied health facilitators can help incorporate necessary skills into everyday conversations”.


6) Enhance Tacit knowledge by practice:

Tacit knowledge is a noncodified form of knowledge. It is a form of expertize that lies subconsciously within human capability that can be enhanced by practice.

The implicit/tacit knowledge of doctors about coping, quality of life and factors has a positive effect on the doctor-patient relationship. This has already been well established by a study on tacit knowledge and oral cancer patients.

“Doctors have very specific ideas about the coping mechanisms and problems of their patients,” the study concludes. The more practice and time spent with the patients, the more easily the doctors were able to establish a connection with them.


7) Give time for information gathering:

It is not difficult to understand how, pressed for time, physicians jump to conclusions on the patient’s very first complaint. But studies have shown that it is really the second or third ones that carry much vital information. So, it comes as no surprise that patients usually feel that their doctor is too busy to listen.

Here is an alternative approach that a physician can try out:

  • First, try and gather all the concerns that the patient may have. No need to get into the details.
  • Ask “anything else?” just to make sure you get everything they may have to say.
  • Finally, work with the patient to work out an agenda for your current appointment.

Doesn’t this approach feel like a great way to improve the doctor-patient relationship?


Which of these skills do you think is the most crucial for a doctor to have a good relationship with his patients? Share it in the comments below or in TacitKey!



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