While most current physicians are happy and mentally healthy – with 59% reporting that they are satisfied with their lives – a significant proportion still tends to experience clinician burnout. This long-term stress reaction marked by emotional exhaustion is triggered by a number of reasons, though one of the most common reasons is weak patient interaction.
According to a survey by the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP), over 70% of physicians say they are burdened with administrative tasks, leaving little time for them to connect with their patients. 55% confirmed that the time they spend with their patients had decreased since they began their practice. Interestingly, 44% reported that the latter is true despite the fact that patient care has improved overall.
This signifies that even though medical care has technically advanced, providers still do feel stressed because of a poor relationship with their patients, and the same is true for patients too. Research reveals that when patients and practitioners share a healthy relationship, this leads to higher patient satisfaction and overall better patient experience. Nurturing the professional bond, therefore, means both patients and physicians thrive and avoid stress and feelings of unhappiness.
How to Build Stronger Patient Relationships
With clinicians being burdened with medical and administrative tasks, it is essential to find quick and simple fixes to improve their bond with their patients. Here are a few practical strategies to achieve this and consequently avoid clinician burnout.
1. Dedicate 1 minute to building a positive relationship
If doctors or other medical staff were asked to spend 15-20 minutes on getting to know a patient and bond with them, they would probably scoff at the idea. This is because they absolutely do not have the time to spend an extra 15-20 minutes with each patient. However, anyone can spare 60 seconds. And this is all the time you need to build a relationship with your patient, provided you use it wisely!
At the beginning of a patient visit, make it a habit to spend the first 1 minute asking them questions that do not revolve around medical care. This will quickly help build a sense of a personal relationship. Ask questions like ‘How are you doing?’, ‘How was your day?’, and even ‘What do you do in your free time?’. You will be surprised at the long way 60 seconds can go!
2. Practice welcoming body language
Physicians often don’t realize how much difference they can make by merely practicing better body language to make the patient feel welcome and taken care of. In the hustle of the everyday practice life, physicians often unconsciously make physical gestures that negatively affect the patient-practitioner relationship. Here are some positive body language gestures to focus on:
- Make eye contact while talking to the patient
- Nod when the patient is speaking to signify that you are listening
- Sit next to the patient if possible, as data show this can increase patient satisfaction
- Keep conversation undistracted; avoid conversation with others or looking elsewhere
- Keep your posture open and keen; lean forward and avoid crossing your arms
- Smile when appropriate; a smile goes a long way!
3. Demonstrate empathy toward patients
Patient-practitioner relationships are often strained because providers don’t realize that their behavior can come across as apathetic. It is essential to actively practice compassion, so as to make the patient feel like you actually care for their well-being and are not just begrudgingly doing your job.
Empathetic communication is characterized by active listening. The practitioner should ideally minimize distractions while talking to the patient and make sure the patient feels like they are being heard. A good strategy is to confirm your understanding after the patient stops talking, by using phrases like “Let me see if I have this right…”.
Empathy can also be communicated by asking the following quick questions. Remember that these can be asked during your rapport-building 60 seconds!
- How are you?
- How do you feel?
- How is your condition affecting you/your life?
- What is troubling you the most?
- How are you handling this/that?’
Follow up with empathetic statements like, “That must be difficult for you.”
4. Use EHRs to build patient trust
Research has shown that patients feel apprehensive and less satisfied when doctors use a screen while the patients are unaware of what is on the screen. With EHR Software, physicians now have a handy tool to share screens with patients. With features like Patient Portal, patients can stay informed about their medical treatment and feel like they are actively involved in the process. This is a remarkable way to build trust, make the patients feel less anxious, and improve the overall patient experience.
5. Provide culturally responsive patient care
Sometimes, the relationship suffers because the provider exhibits behavior that may be normal for them, but culturally inappropriate for the patient. It is essential for clinicians to remember that their own cultural values and beliefs may conflict with those of patients, which is why interaction with patients from diverse backgrounds should always be carried out carefully. Make sure you ask questions about any behavior that you’re unsure of, even if it is just sitting next to the patient. Physicians should also make an effort to address language barriers and make sure communication is clear despite differences.
Being careful of these minor things can positively contribute to the patient-practitioner relationship, leading to not only a more satisfied patient but also a happier and more responsible provider.