3 simple ways to improve our patient relationships

Norman Rockwell never imagined a world where visiting a doctor could be compared to a trip through a Starbucks drive-thru. The days of shooting the breeze with patients and family members have been relegated to the “Good ole’ days” museum right next to Rockwell’s paintings portraying the doctor as more than just a healer, but a trusted friend. What happened to those days? With challenges like increased patient volumes and regulations, it’s a wonder there is any time left over to get to know our patients.

Here are three simple and sometimes overlooked ways to honor our predecessors by improving our patient relationships.

1. Make a connection. We make a connection with our patients the moment we walk into the room. It’s the almighty first impression. When seeing a patient on initial consultation, this is the best opportunity to connect with them and their family members. Patients monitor our expressions, examine our demeanor and wait with baited breath to hear what we say. If we fly into the room, avoid eye contact and ignore family members, they will disconnect from us. Most of us have had encounters like this. There’s nothing better than a heartfelt greeting and a little relaxed small talk to ease the patient’s fears and mend the ailing spirit.
2. Make time. Once we’ve connected, we should consider slowing down. Patients feel unimportant if we don’t spend time with them and show an interest. They may feel that all we want is their money or that others are more important. And trust me, if we blaze through their exam and listen half-heartedly to their concerns, there will be trouble when the bill arrives, especially if things go bad. For employed physicians required to see thirty patients per day, maybe it’s time to have a chat with your employer about quality and safety. The bottom line in healthcare never favors the patient. We could all benefit by taking a page from Jerry McGuire’s “mission statement” and seeing “fewer clients.” Whatever it takes to bring the quality of our relationships with patients and their families to the highest level possible.
3. Make friends. Finally, patients want to know that their physician is more than a non-feeling robot. Yes they want us to have knowledge and wisdom when it comes to their care, but at the same time they want to feel that we are like them — that we relate to them at some level. We shouldn’t be afraid to discuss our own personal interests, families and commonalities when appropriate. And as a bonus for our efforts, patients are less likely to pursue legal action against us when things go sideways. Given the tremendous burden a lawsuit can have on a physician’s life, it just makes sense.
Remembering to put the humanity of our patients first will be a win-win scenario. We become better physicians and the patient feels that he or she is important and worthy, regardless of the outcome. It’s the best kind of medicine.
Christoher Nyte is an otolaryngologist-facial plastic surgeon.

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