You can't help your patients if they're not being honest with you, and that means they need to be comfortable enough to talk about their lifestyle choices. Patients are sometimes reluctant to discuss bad habits, but you need to know this information to make the best care decisions for them. By building relationships that encourage patient trust, you will both get the most out of appointments.
Baby boomers and younger generations tend to be empowered patients and look for physicians who promote a partner-like relationship. As they become more financially responsible for their care, they want to feel like they are coming up with solutions with you, and as a physician, you can encourage that relationship while still maintaining your position as the medical expert.
How to Gain Trust
Patients disclose more information to doctors they trust, so you can encourage more open sharing by letting your patients know why sharing accurate information is important to the treatment plan, and show how that information is beneficial to coming up with the right choices. A little education goes a long way toward getting your patients on board and disclosing what you need to know. It's very important in this process to avoid judgmental, condescending, or scolding statements.
Once you establish that trust level, it's much easier to make collaborative health decisions. If patients feel that you understand their concerns and have come up with treatment they agree with and understand, it's much more likely they'll continue to be open with you.
Overall, focus on patient communication with the right mindset. As The New England Journal of Medicine says, there are multiple paths to choose from for most medical decisions. Your patients need to be involved, so don't pose as an authority figure. Instead of orienting your interaction to answer the question, "What's the matter?", orient your questions to get to the answer for, "What matters to you?"
The Right Communication Tactics
How you speak to patients is probably the primary determinant in building patient trust and rapport. It may not happen in one visit, but if you continue to follow common guidelines for effective communication that are applicable to all business relationships, and you'll start to build a better relationship. Try these tactics:
- Maintain the usual pleasantries at the beginning of an appointment.
- Make eye contact.
- Sit when talking to patients.
- Respond with empathy.
Although these seem like common sense, they're easy to forget when you're limited to 15 minutes with each patient. Despite how rushed you may be, don't let it show.
You also want to make sure that you're listening without interrupting. If you let your patient fully explain what's affecting them, you're more likely to glean the proper information. In an article for Family Practice Management, one physician said most patients tell you 90 percent of what's wrong if allowed to talk for three or four minutes. Unfortunately, most physicians interrupt patients after an average of about 18 seconds. Don't be one of these physicians! You can interject to keep conversations on track, but let patients talk as much as possible before you start speaking.
For some patients, modesty is an issue that lowers their trust in a physician. They need to feel comfortable and secure when disrobing in an exam room or walking down the hall in a gown, for example. Keep doors closed when patients are changing, and offer gowns that cover the front and back when walking from room to room.
It may take a few visits to get patients to open up and trust you with personal information, such as drug use or their true eating and exercise habits, and building that trust with them is an individual process. There's no set best practice or standard of care for offering up compassion and empathy. In the end, though, by showing that you're there to make a decision with patients — not for them — you're on track to forming the right relationship.