Increased Returns: The Value of the Doctor-Patient Relationship

Doctor-Patient Relationship

Increased Returns: The Value of the Doctor-Patient Relationship



Think of Norman Rockwell. Now, conjure in your mind all of his work depicting doctors. They are, on the surface, caricatures representing an ideal. The doctor (a country physician, usually) is warm and accessible, his patients (children, more often than not) comfortable and compliant. But there is a subtle, though very real subtext running through these old prints: Trust. Rockwell’s doctors seem well-liked by their patients because they are made to feel comfortable. Their level of comfort and familiarity was established through trust. This trust was built on transparency, and…

… …?

Communication. It is the cornerstone of any solid, lasting relationship. Genuine, unscripted communication with patients and their families is essential for quality, individualized care, as well as patient retention. Whether young, middle-aged, or old, we should all feel the way Rockwell’s children do in his paintings when we visit the doctor—assured that this person knows us, our medical history and the specific kind of treatment we need, and is invested in our quality of life.

A familiar, HUMAN voice

How important is the tone of your voice? The answer shouldn’t come as a surprise. While an automated telephone system is sometimes necessary, it can mean a lot to your patients to hear a real voice on the other end of the line, even if they are just calling to schedule or confirm an appointment. In fact, it can mean a lot to have your front-desk person calling out to confirm appointments. It is also important to respond to patient inquiries as promptly as possible. Failure to do this common, simple thing in a timely way has a very alienating effect, and can send even long-time patients looking for another physician.

The importance of personable communication doesn’t taper off once a patient enters your office. Patient check-in can be a very technical process. They must sign in, and forms need to be filled out. This is a context where even the best medical offices take on the feel of a factory. A proper greeting from the receptionist carries a lot of weight, and so does taking the time to listen to a patient’s questions. Before asking them to “please sign their name”, and “have a seat”, let them voice their concerns. Proper communication here ensures that all of their questions are answered up-front, reducing the need for patients to return to the desk with more questions.

On a daily basis, most people are relegated to just another number, at the DMV, the post office, the deli counter, etc… But once a patient steps foot in your office, once they walk past that big door into the examination room, they are individual people with a unique set of circumstances and needs. Your staff should know their last name, and should always make eye-contact when addressing them. In the exam room, it is a physician’s time to shine. Really try to engage here. Just because the nature of your profession is clinical doesn’t mean your communication style has to be. Utilize familiar verbal, and non-verbal cues. Show your patient you are invested in their health by attempting to educate them about their condition. If you offer a follow-up call after their appointment, be sure to actually do it. Remember that you aren’t simply treating an illness—you care treating a patient.

Sympathy, empathy, and family

Sometimes, even as a primary care provider, the big picture can be pretty bleak. Regular patients get older, and begin to break down. Younger patients, even children, contract conditions that send them into rapid decline. This will be incredibly difficult for them, and it can be both difficult and awkward for you.

As a physician, and the leader of your practice, you must understand, and educate your staff about the importance of a patient’s emotional health. They must know that you are committed to the quality of their life, even if it stands to be shortened by their condition. You must facilitate a certain amount of emotional healing for a patient, even if full physical recovery isn’t possible. If they spiral into depression or despair, it can just exacerbate their condition. Communicate that you will do everything you can for them, and that you will work closely with the other members of their healthcare team. To reiterate a point from above: Your job isn’t to treat maladies. It is to treat people.

With a commitment to treating an individual comes an unspoken extension of that commitment. Even with non-chronic patients, your care will extend over to members of their family. While they can come across as illogical and emotionally erratic, make sure that each issue they bring to your attention is addressed. Give detailed explanations of all clinical aspects. Family members can rest easy knowing how intimately you know their loved one’s condition.

Avoiding law-suits, and increasing retention

A satisfied, happy patient is one that is less likely to press legal action, and lack of communication is the chief culprit for dashing their satisfaction and happiness. In-depth communication with patients ensures a correct diagnosis, encourages their compliance, and helps to obtain informed consent. Communication and people skills, therefore, are the simplest tools for avoiding accusations of malpractice.

The best marketing tool you have are your patients. If they are happy, and keep returning year after year, they will likely suggest you and your practice to others currently searching for a care provider. In this sense, retention equals expansion. Let your patients feel that they are part of a family, and you can sit back and watch that family grow.


Brian Torchin

| HCRC Staffing | |

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