How to Build Relationships with Your Patients

The primary goal of a healthcare practice is to provide excellent care to patients. There are a number of factors that go into patient care, and each doctor has their own approach to how they interact with patients and share important information.

During an interview on our Paradigm Shift of Healthcare podcast, Dr. Craig Greene, an orthopedic surgeon from Baton Rouge, LA, explained how building relationships with his patients has enabled him to provide better care. Building trust with his patients has gone a long way toward making patients feel comfortable in situations that can, at times, be very stressful. This ultimately helps build patient satisfaction and ensures that patients return to his practice whenever they need orthopedic care.

In the podcast interview, Dr. Greene shares how he builds trusting relationships with his patients, and many of his methods are a lot easier than you might think! Simple gestures can go a long way with your patients. Try these tips in your own practice to build stronger relationships with your patients.

1. Take the time to listen and empathize.

Dr. Greene stresses the importance of taking the time to really listen to his patients. What are their struggles and challenges? What are their lives like? What are their goals with treatment? This not only gives you the opportunity to get to know your patients and understand where they’re coming from, but can also inform your recommendations for treatment. By listening and opening those lines of communication, you can set appropriate expectations with patients and determine the best course of action.

Empathy also plays a large part in building trust with patients. Technical skill is, of course, a very important factor in achieving great results for your patients, but empathy is also critical in building trust and retaining patients. During the interview, Dr. Greene shared that “test scores have become so important [for orthopedic surgeons], and what’s not in a test score is how empathetic are you. And granted, you still have to have the skill level, but you also have the ‘hear you out, listen, and try to connect’.” Patients may come to you for level of skill in treating their problem, but if you’re empathetic to their problems, they’ll keep coming back when they need your help.

2. Make eye contact.

An important element of listening and empathizing with patients is making eye contact with them. The rise of EHRs and electronic systems has made this more challenging for physicians during office visits. It’s important to take thorough notes for the patient’s records, but when a doctor is looking at a computer screen instead of at the patient for most of the appointment, it makes it more difficult to connect with the patient. Patients also notice the lack of eye contact, and sometimes it can make them feel that the doctor isn’t listening to them.

Dr. Greene addresses this in his own practice by having another team member in the exam room to enter information into the computer, “whether that’s a PA or a medical assistant, it’s essentially a scribe that can tell the story.” This allows him to make eye contact with the patient and focus on their discussion, rather than having to worry about taking good notes the whole time. While this may add to costs for your practice, it can help improve patient satisfaction, which ultimately makes it worth the investment.

Dr. Greene is also careful about how he positions himself when talking to patients so that they don’t feel he’s talking down to them: “If they’re on the exam table, I’m sitting…they’re above me, I’m not talking down to them, I’m listening out in front of them.”

3. Make it easy for patients to get in touch with you.

Of course, every doctor has a personal life outside of his or her practice, but patients are reassured when they know they have a means of getting in touch with you when there’s an emergency. You don’t need to give every patient your personal phone number to contact you after hours, but providing some means of contacting you can go a long way for patients.

Dr. Greene realized the challenges patients face in trying to get answers when he had to get in touch with his staff one day: “So, I called the direct line, nobody answered. I called the main line, I got to listen to music, press a number, got put on hold, got transferred to PA area, got put on hold again, and then got answered to the same voice mail I just [heard]. And I thought, ‘That’s me calling my staff.’ They were probably busy doing something. But what if you’re a patient calling saying, ‘I have drainage from my wound,’ or, ‘I’m out of medication.’?”

To address this, Dr. Greene gives patients his email so that they can contact him if they have any problems or urgent questions. He may not have the time to answer phone calls during the day, but email allows him to address those questions more efficiently and forward to his staff for further assistance, if needed. While some physicians are hesitant to give out personal contact information for fear of being bombarded with questions, Dr. Greene hasn’t found that to be the case with his patients. “They just wanted to know that they could get in touch with me if they needed to. Most of them were like, ‘I didn’t wanna bother you.’” he said.

4. Be sincere in your efforts to connect.

Sincerity is perhaps the most important part of building better relationships with your patients. “I think patients can tell if it’s just an act or if, you know, the doctor just doesn’t care,” Dr. Greene said during the interview. With any actions that you take to connect with your patients, it has to feel sincere.

Most people become doctors and surgeons because they have a desire to help sick people get better, and to help them stay healthy. In any interactions with your patients, it’s important that that comes across.

A lot of things in healthcare are shifting, and you may not have control over all of those policies and requirements. However, you do have control over how you interact with patients–how you talk with them, making eye contact, and making an effort to understand their needs. These small touches build trust with your patients, which ensures that they’ll keep coming back to you when they need help.