How Healthcare Providers Can Improve
Their Relationships with Patients

See also: Building Rapport

In the world of healthcare, it’s easy to see patients in a somewhat abstract way, thinking only about how to treat and cure them in the same way as a mechanic might manage a faulty vehicle.

However, patients are human beings with needs to be met and emotions to be taken into account, which means that healthcare providers have a responsibility to think about how they build and improve relationships with the people they serve.

With that in mind, here are a few options for enhancing the interactions between provider and patient in a meaningful, sustainable way.

Doctor talking to a patient in a hospital bed.

Track outcomes to inform decisions

Using a patient outcome tracker can ensure that the doctor-patient relationship is founded on trust, because it means that the decisions you make as a physician are informed by the data gathered from previous interactions.

It’s all about assessing symptoms over time, determining whether the course of treatment being taken is having a beneficial impact, and making adjustments based on hard evidence, not on a generic set of medical principles.

In essence, by treating each patient as an individual, you can act to enhance the outcomes of the treatment provided to them, and thus demonstrate that you care, which of course leads to a better relationship in the long term.

A good doctor-patient relationship in this context is also about ensuring that patients actually adhere to the treatment as laid out by the physician. If there is not adequate engagement, or sufficient trust, then they could fail to follow through with the advice and medication provided, and outcomes will suffer.

Practice active listening

In a doctor’s office, it can feel like there is an imbalance of power, with the qualified physician bringing their years of study and on-the-job experience to bear on a problem that a patient may be experiencing for the first time in their life and know very little about as a result.

The problem here is that medical pros might be compelled to listen passively, and make a speedy assessment of what’s wrong, perhaps even interrupting the patient before they have reached the end of a sentence in order to deliver a diagnosis.

This is unhelpful for two reasons, the first of which is purely practical; if you do not listen carefully to what a patient has to say, you could miss some vital piece of information which will be necessary in determining the decisions you make next. Secondly, it will be a frustrating experience for the patient, and might put them off from returning to your practice in the future.

Using active listening techniques is sensible in this scenario. It will help you take in the information and also show the patient that you are heeding their words and giving them every ounce of your attention.

This can include giving non-verbal indicators of your attentiveness, such as maintaining eye-contact, and leaning towards the patient, rather than sitting back and looking away.

Engage with patients emotionally

Healthcare is a necessarily clinical process, but again it is one which applies to flesh and blood humans, and so emotions are inevitably involved.

Practitioners must be attuned to the emotional ebbs and flows that are impacting their patients from moment to moment. Rather than shying away from some of the intense feelings that might be displayed, or ignoring them and storming ahead with the conversational thread, you need to be sensitive to the cues and signals that each person exhibits.

This is where non-verbal communication is once again a useful skill to have, but here it means being able to understand what others are expressing in their body language, not in their words, rather than being on top of your own contributions to the conversation.

Obviously, this is a skill that you will be able to develop more thoroughly with time, but there are training courses that cater to this kind of communication, so it might be worth seeking one out if you feel that your ability to manage a doctor-patient relationship is not at its best.

Ask empathetic questions

Diagnosing illnesses and determining the effectiveness of ongoing treatments involves asking patients questions. There are several ways to do this, and phrasing queries in a way that displays empathy is another excellent relationship building tool that doctors need to harness.

For example, rather than just asking about the symptoms of a condition, ask how the ailment is having an impact on their day-to-day life.

This can actually help to reveal more about the problem itself, as well as being a much-appreciated sign that you are understanding of the trials and tribulations they are facing outside of the surgery.

This is also an opportunity to touch on the mental health aspect of illness, in the case that the problem itself is physical.

Plenty of patients will struggle to cope with the impact of an injury or a disease, and recognizing that this is something worth discussing with you will help to alleviate aspects of the burden.

Consider cultural differences

We live in a multicultural society, and it’s easy to forget that the behaviors that are socially acceptable to people from one background might be embarrassing or inappropriate to those of another.

For doctors, this means being sensitive to how such differences might present themselves in their interactions with patients.

It’s impossible to navigate all of the potential issues through prior preparation, so the easiest solution is to simply be eager to ask questions before you go ahead and do something which might potentially be an issue.

For example, rather than immediately asking a patient to subject themselves to an examination carried out by yourself, make sure to check that they are comfortable with you administering it, or if they would prefer to be seen by a doctor of a different gender.

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Final thoughts

There is no excuse for healthcare providers to ignore the needs of patients, or to neglect the things which could otherwise improve their relationships, as well as the outcomes of the care they provide.

A combination of tools, training, skill development and straightforward empathy is required in this emotive industry.

About the Author

Cristina Par is a content specialist with a passion for writing articles that bridge the gap between brands and their audiences. She believes that high-quality content plus the right link building strategies can turn the tables for businesses small and large.