Before the advent of hospitals, or even the modern doctor’s office, physicians made house calls. Essentially medicine-practicing entrepreneurs, physicians visited members of their communities in intimate settings. Many formed such close bonds with their patients that they were considered family. In those “good old days,” primary care physicians were not only fiercely protective of their independence but of their relationships with their patients; patients, by extension, were generally trusting of and deferential to their physicians. Like the Hippocratic oath, a solid doctor-patient bond should form the foundation of a modern healthcare system that is proactive, rather than reactive, and promotes wellness, rather than sick-care.
Though the concept of strong doctor-patient relationships is a core tenet that modern medicine should embrace, today, many physicians find it difficult to maintain connections with their patients. Today’s physicians are bombarded with multiplying administrative burdens that are typically generated by an explosive number industry-wide changes, which all threaten the precarious balance of the doctor-patient relationship. And for all of the medical advances we can be thankful for, there are a number that also make it harder to connect with patients; the migration to cumbersome, time-consuming EHRs, as well as the rise of consolidated medicine have robbed doctors of the relationships they used to be able to cultivate without much effort. Here are three ways to revive and preserve the precious doctor-patient relationship:
- Make the most of the patient care visit. It’s not uncommon for patients to attend an appointment during which their physician spends the entire time looking at a screen and typing. Studies show that actual time physicians with patients is less critical than the perception by patients that they are the focus of the time and that they are accurately heard by their physicians. Next time you’re in an appointment, put your laptop aside and devote a bit of time just to making eye contact and engaging your patient in conversation. Making this simple change will do much to garner your patient’s respect and trust.
- Train your front office staff to be kind. The accessibility and courtesy level of nonclinical employees in your practice have a profound influence on how your practice is perceived, particularly by new patients. Kind front office staff and office managers provide the first impression for your practice and give patients a sense that they are important and respected, as do reasonable waiting times and attention to personal comfort. Hire staff who are well-versed in customer service and give them opportunities to train the rest of your team to warmly acknowledge patients even if they are busy with other tasks. Take cues from other industries by implementing the use of scripts and other methods to standardize the patient experience. Transform your waiting room into a “welcome center” where patients are greeted and then ushered quickly into their appointment with their provider.
- Embrace population health and coordinated care. By focusing on the health of your patient population as a whole, you’ll notice trends and will be able to make nuanced recommendations during wellness visits. Your medical advice will be enhanced by your knowledge of the intricacies of your unique patient population, potentially gaining your patients’ respect and trust enough for them to schedule regular appointments. Studies show that routine health care improves the health of patients. Over the last 50 years, the average life expectancy of Americans has increased by over seven years, owing to declines in deaths from heart disease, smoking, and control of high blood pressure – all conditions that improve from regular and sustained communication with a primary care provider. Primary care providers should also lead coordinated care efforts to provide convenient and targeted medical services to patients who need them. For example, doctors in Privia Medical Group take a unique team approach to managing patients’ health, establishing doctor-led teams that include dietitians, fitness trainers, wellness coaches, and nurse care managers – who all work together to prevent disease before it occurs, to keep patients healthy.
In the old days, physicians disdained intermediaries that threatened to intercede between them and the patients they were devoted to caring for. In the new healthcare paradigm, however, it’s important for physicians to align with a partner that helps them by leveraging expertise and technology, allowing doctors and patients to work to create a mutually beneficial relationship that improves patient outcomes.