The importance of building patient rapport can hardly be stressed enough in an age of electronic health records (EHRs). While the EHR has improved quality of care and patient safety through improved management, it takes up a portion of the physician’s time at the encounter and has been found to decrease attention given to the patient. While medical transcription companies help resolve this concern with EHR-integrated documentation support, physician and nurses need to focus on building rapport with patients. This is crucial to promote good communication and a positive clinician-patient experience which can improve care.
The physician-patient relationship is the crux of all medicine. The American Medical Association Code of Medical Ethics states that a physician-patient relationship is a clinical encounter, a moral activity and a relationship “based on trust, which gives rise to physicians’ ethical responsibility to place patients’ welfare above the physician’s own self-interest or obligations to others, to use sound medical judgment on patients’ behalf, and to advocate for their patients’ welfare.”
A recent Kitsap Sun article recalled the Norman Rockwell painting of a doctor holding a stethoscope to the chest of a little girl’s doll as the ideal example of a provider’s effort to gain the trust and confidence of his patient. Published in a 1929 edition of the Saturday Evening Post, the picture illustrates the importance of rapport-building in the patient-physician interaction.
Good manners and earnest communication to understand the patient’s feelings are the first steps to building good rapport with patients. Here are six ways to build a positive physician-patient relationship:
- Start building rapport at the introduction: Physicians and their team need to begin building rapport with patients the moment they introduce themselves, notes an article in Practice Dermatology. Patients should be asked how they preferred to be addressed – whether their formal name or a shortened version should be used. The preference should be used consistently. Using the patient’s preferred name during all encounters will establish feelings of familiarity and comfort, and build rapport.
- Treat patients with respect and dignity: Physicians and nurses need to remember that patients are people with families, friends, jobs, experiences and futures. Patients are in a vulnerable position when they are in the physician’s office or exam room. Providers need to do everything they can to preserve the patient’s respect and dignity. This means paying attention to what they are saying and protecting their privacy and modesty. By adopting the right attitude and manner, physicians can show that they are genuinely interested and concerned and ready to help. Building rapport is essential to build trust.
- Express empathy: Empathy is defined as the ability to understand and share the feelings of another. Clinicians need to show their patients that they understand their situation and feelings, and care about them. In the medical field, there are two types of empathy – cognitive and affective (patientengagementhit.com). Cognitive empathy is the physician’s ability to recognize a patient’s emotions, reflect those emotions back to the patient, and consider the emotions when making care decisions. Affective empathy is when providers themselves genuinely feel the emotions the patient feels. According to researchers from the University of Chicago, physician empathy requires both cognitive and affective empathy. While showing empathy and building rapport, physicians should not allow let patients’ issues or attitude to affect them emotionally.
- Maintain eye contact: Maintaining eye contact fosters a sense of compassion, connection and caring. With the computer in the examination room, there is the danger that the physician may focus on EHR data entry rather than on the patient. Medical transcription services help physicians with their charting and put individual attention and personable eye-contact back in the equation.
- Minimize distractions and practice active listening: Physicians need to avoid all distractions during care. Text messages and app notifications can prove major distractions. Physicians need to put their beeper and smartphone on silent mode and turn off app notifications. At the same time, they need to practice active listening to share a patient’s thoughts and feelings. Active listening means the physician needs to listen to what the patient is saying, repeat what was heard to the patient, and check with the patient whether their understanding of what was said is correct. This is a reliable rapport building strategy. It’s important to limit the number of time questions are asked or interrupt patients when they are presenting their chief complaints.
- Engage the patient in developing the care plan: Open communication is the basis of building patient rapport. It’s important for patients to understand as much as possible about their own health and participate in their care. Educating patients will make them feel empowered and enhance the relationship with the healthcare provider. Clinicians should ensure that patients understand instructions and fill in knowledge gaps, which is crucial for successful care.
Building patient rapport is so important that practices are seeking outside support to bridge any gaps between patients and practitioners. Many are hiring patient rapport managers. As a recent Physicians Practice article explains, patient rapport managers are members of the practice team with healthcare experience who provide extra attention to patients on the physician’s behalf. Patient rapport managers follow up with patients after an invasive procedure, a sudden illness, a trauma or an emotional event. They improve patients’ feelings of intimidation, calm fears and uncertainties, and answer common questions. Medical transcription outsourcing is another type of support service that physicians can rely on. An experienced medical transcription company will handle clinical documentation tasks efficiently so that physicians and nurses can focus on their patients and establish a strong rapport with them.