Patients for Life: Making Connections that Last
In previous posts, we’ve touched upon the importance of the patient/doctor relationship, of practice visibility, and of marketing your practice based on various demographic information. These are all efforts toward increasing your patient base, earning their trust, and making sure they get the kind of service they need. Your patients trust in your judgement, and your efficacy as a physician. Your marketing campaign was memorable, witty, and also reassuring. Your practice is closer to where many of your patients live than your nearest competitor, and you offer more flexible payment options.
But is this the sum total of a real connection? In this post, we will discuss the term in a bit more depth, beyond marketing, practicality, convenience, and clinical savvy. How does a real, lasting patient connection start? What does it entail, and how do we keep that connection from weakening?
The birth of connection
The path toward long-term, meaningful connections with patients is relatively straightforward. Step one entails really putting you, and your practice out there in a meaningful, and effective way. In a previous post, we listed the various ways in which to advertise your practice prior to its grand opening. Traditional avenues like print—a story in the local newspaper—and radio are still viable. Utilizing digital strategies are, of course, a must. But becoming noticed is only half the battle. You must ask yourself how you want to be perceived. To this end, we really suggest hosting an open-house event.
This is your first chance to allow patients to really see you, not just a representation of you. This is a chance to learn about them, while showing them things about you. Being so open and candid with people is not easy for everybody. It is completely acceptable to draw up boundaries for yourself. But in order to connect, you must make yourself known, not just noticed. At the same time, you must prove a genuine desire to know those you will be treating. This should continue well after the open-house concludes, and your doors officially open.
…but how do they really feel?
Supremely confident. Highly competent. Consistently dependable. Who doesn’t like those attributes? Well, we certainly can’t think of anyone, but how a person determines if they genuinely like another human being is a bit more complex. Let’s backtrack a bit. As silly as it may sound, showing interest in a person’s life, making an earnest effort to actually learn who they are and identify a few common denominators, is paramount. These can speak more for you than your diplomas and licenses ever could.
Initiating a conversation with a patient means the world. It could start with a word or two about the recent performance of a mutually loved sports team. Or, you can following up with them about a family member—a son or daughter going off to college, a mother back in physical therapy, etc. Do you have children? Did you also have to take care of an aging parent? Share your experience. In doing so, you are doing the one thing that pretty much ensures you will be genuinely liked by your patients. You are letting them know that you like them.
“If you don’t like me, then I don’t like you.” Simple enough. Most people don’t commit themselves socially and emotionally to those who don’t reciprocate. Sharing with someone, and getting them to share in turn shows them that you value their company, and opinions. Remember to keep a light-hearted tone, smile, and laugh once on a while. Be aware of your facial expressions, as well as those of the person in front of you. We wear mistrust, annoyance, and impatience like masks, and just because your words aren’t patronizing doesn’t mean that your face isn’t actively betraying the sentiment.
The circle of trust
There is a fine line between liking someone and trusting them. Naturally, we expect that you practice medicine to the utmost standards of the profession. You are patient, and empathetic. You are transparent and forthright about treatments, billing, and other policies. These are the necessary starting points. But, as with getting a patient to like you, gaining their trust is a bit more complex, is easily lost, and can involve a variety of seemingly unrelated factors.
Did you ever serve in the military? Make this known, because it will go a very long way with veterans, especially those suffering from PTSD, or any kind of physical condition they sustained during their service. Outside the office, are you a “plain-clothes” kind of person? If so, then simply being seen out in the world by certain patients can provide a major boost.
One highly effective strategy is to make bio-cards available to all of your patients. These should summarize your life experiences and goals, providing a glimpse into who you are as a person, not just a physician. Make a stack of them available in your waiting room, and send them out through good, old fashioned mail to patients.
Accessibility, shared experience, and transparency form the bedrock of lasting doctor-patient connections. There is, however, a tendency among physicians to sabotage what they try so hard to create. We all make assumptions. It is part of a default setting our mind goes into when we are only given a few pieces of information to go on about something, or someone. The key for a physician (for everyone, really) is to acknowledge this process as it is happening. Yes, making calculated assumptions based on available evidence and history is part of a doctor’s job. But always go back for a second, or third look before you leap. Beyond a misdiagnosis, choosing how to treat and communicate with patients based on appearances, or early speech and behavioral patterns and can have an alienating effect on them…and on yourself.
Have a great day!
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