Resuscitating the Doctor-Patient Relationship

Think about your last doctor visit. Was it pleasant, or was it a whirlwind of technology and people rushing in and out of the exam room? How did you feel after the visit? Were you satisfied, or did you feel like you were herded out the door?

Now, put your physician hat on. If you felt overwhelmed at your own doctor visit, imagine how your patients feel.

While modern medicine has brought advances in technology and has also made telemedicine possible, there can be a downside. Telemedicine provides patients with access to a doctor. In many rural and otherwise remote areas, this has been a lifesaving technology because telemedicine is the only way these patients would ever see a doctor, particularly given the growing physician shortage in the United States. However, access doesn’t necessarily guarantee a connection between the doctor and patient.

Indeed, medicine is suffering from the loss of the all-important rapport of the doctor-patient relationship. This is a crucial foundation that must be built and maintained, because trust is key to patients feeling comfortable enough to share all their information with you, and that leads to more complete and accurate diagnoses, better outcomes and more satisfied patients.

The current healthcare environment makes doctor/patient rapport more difficult to maintain. Telemedicine can often be impersonal, but regular doctor visits can too, as doctors experience heavy patient load due to physician shortage and limited time with patients to meet the demands of insurance reimbursements.

Creating patient relationships is definitely an uphill battle, given these challenges. How can physicians work to foster connections in the age of modern medicine? It is possible, and here are some ways to do just that.

Familiarize yourself before each interaction

Bedside manner and patient rapport require a particular skill set, and physicians who master it will have much richer doctor-patient relationships. Try to spend a few minutes reviewing the patient history before you enter the exam room – accomplish this in a way that best suits your team. Patients want familiarity, so you will begin the visit with that first crucial step and set the patient at ease.

Redefine your role in the patient’s healthcare journey

Many patients come to the appointment armed with information (or misinformation) from the internet, forcing doctors to redefine their traditional roles. You are no longer the sole authority, so get used to it. Instead of discouraging patients who find their own information, you should actively participate in guiding patients when it comes to seeking medical information from the internet. Educate patients on where to find reputable information and where they should avoid. It is important to understand that patients are only trying to find information, not necessarily challenging your medical authority.

Build a team and refine your workflow

Physicians are under tremendous time pressure to ensure a profitable practice, and that usually means being able to only spend a few minutes with each patient. But there is strength in numbers. Maximize the effectiveness of your entire healthcare team – other doctors, nurses, physician assistants, nurse practitioners and office staff. Spend a half day on a team retreat to rework your patient flow. Revisit how you see patients and get everyone’s input about how to streamline the office workflow. Done right, the patient won’t feel rushed through the appointment or herded out the door.

Effectively utilize the team approach

Rather than having the doctor wade through the wheat and chaff of information, many physicians are utilizing nurse practitioners or physician assistants to have the initial patient conversations. The NP or PA does the initial patient interaction to understand the complaint and gather information. The doctor comes in for the examination, already brought up to speed on the issue. The NP or PA may still be present, so the session turns into a three-way consultation. This makes efficient use of the physician’s time, while making the patient feel cared for and in good hands. The experience also gives the patient confidence in your team members for future care.

Promote your team

As you promote your team, many patients will become comfortable seeing your PA for minor issues or due to scheduling. This gives the patient more control, and you will begin to see a beneficial shift in your practice. Over time, patients do become confident in the ability of the team as a whole. It truly is a form of triage that works well, not only allowing you to keep up with insurance demands, but more importantly, spend your time with patients who most need your unique expertise.

In conclusion, patient-physician dynamics are changing, but that is not necessarily a bad thing. Not only are there new ways to provide care – like telemedicine and urgent clinics – but there are new pathways to building relationships. Change with the times during this massive medical transformation, while maintaining the crucial doctor-patient connection. You can do it!



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