My neighbor recently told me the story of his 85-year-old father’s regular quarterly visit with his physician.
The older man, who wears hearing aids, but otherwise has no medical conditions and is not on any maintenance medication, finds the visits a waste of time because the doctor seems aloof and disinterested.
Due to his father’s complaints, the son went along on the next visit and discovered the problem: communication. The father couldn’t hear well enough to follow along with what the doctor had to say. Subsequently, he became withdrawn and refused to discuss his health. The doctor, on the other hand, deeming the father had no medical issues worthy of discussion, tended to gloss over things.
Ultimately, the father didn’t trust the doctor to know what was wrong with him and to provide adequate service, so he changed physicians. For him (and for most patients), trust comes from a relationship that is real, caring and honest.
1. Ask patients questions to improve their experience.
In the article, “How to Build Trust Between Patient and Provider” from OpposingViews.com, writers Jill Arnold and Henry Dorn, MD, provide a list of some of the things pregnant women want from their physicians. However, many – this one in particular – apply to patients in general:
Ask me first. Always. Don’t assume you have my consent. I know it might slow down your system but no harm can come from giving a calm, general explanation of things you are doing.
2. Answer your patient’s concerns directly.
Another suggestion offered by Arnold and Dorn is:
Accept that I might read books and access information on the internet in an attempt to understand what you are saying. If I refer to this information in an appointment, I’m not trying to insult you.
Correct patients when they are wrong, but also understand that they may be worried about what is going on with them and conduct a little research on their own.
3. Offer additional useful information.
Pamphlets, websites, and books are all helpful tools in helping patients to understand their particular situation. In the case of the 85-year-old patient, a neurologist he visited even drew a picture of his brain to help him understand what might be going on with him.
4. Communicate effectively by listening actively.
Don’t jump to conclusions based on what you already know about the patient or you may miss something new. Be sure to listen to the entire explanation. And don’t be afraid to ask clarifying questions. Sometimes suppositions occur when we think we have all the information already.
5. Build trusted long-term relationships with patients.
In the Executive Healthcare article, “Improving patient trust,” Henry Ross President and CEO of Aegis, the nation’s leading healthcare business-development company, suggests: For patients to have a more positive experience, they need to feel heard, understood and respected.
By following the previous four steps, physicians can accomplish the fifth one. Patients who feel they are more than just another cog in the wheel are more apt to remain loyal.
How do you improve your patient’s experience?
If you have any great tips on what you do to improve patient relationships, we’d love to hear from you.