As healthcare providers, we’re always talking about ways to improve the patient experience. Ensuring that your patients feel comfortable, heard, and cared for not only leads to better outcomes, it also encourages a robust practice by inspiring patient loyalty and referrals. It can be a challenge to build strong patient relationships when you’re dealing with the hectic pace of today’s medicine, but there are a few simple things that you can do to transform the way you connect to your patients.
1. Sit down
You might only have 15 minutes to spend with a patient during an average visit. Feeling rushed feels terrible for both the doctor and the patient, so it’s important to be very aware of your body language during a consultation. Efficiency is important, but hurried or impatient mannerisms can be devastating to patient satisfaction scores. Something as simple as sitting down with the patient as you listen can change the way they perceive the appointment.
2. Reach out – literally
If the only time you ever touch your patients is during the exam, they could feel that the care they are receiving is impersonal. A warm handshake, a comforting pat on the shoulder, or even a hug (if appropriate) can humanize the doctor-patient relationship. A study from the Journal of Participatory Medicine last year found that patients felt much more empathy from doctors who touched them one to three times in the course of a visit.
3. Ask open-ended questions
The patient interview should feel like a conversation, not an interrogation. An open-ended question such as “How have you been feeling lately?” or “Is there anything else that’s been troubling you?” gives patients the opportunity and freedom to bring up difficult subjects.
4. Build robust follow-up plans
Patients need to feel that you have a genuine interest in what happens to them when they leave the office. While you can’t personally hold their hand through their recovery, you can take steps to let them know you care. Follow-up calls, personalized reminder cards, and help in setting up and sticking to overall wellness plans between visits can make a huge difference, both in attitudes and in concrete health outcomes.
5. Embrace technology
Especially with younger patients, “connection” can have a more literal meaning. The use of social media, email, and online scheduling can revolutionize their interactions with your practice. Young people can be difficult to engage in health issues, but building a firm foundation for future health relies on developing positive habits and relationships with healthcare providers. Connecting with them online, where they are most comfortable, may be the answer.
When it comes to fostering warm working relationships with your patients, mindfulness, empathy, and creativity all come into play. There is nothing more human than the desire for connection, and if you can meet that need, both your patients and your practice will be healthier for it.