7 Ways To Improve Your Patient Relations

Building Trust and Stronger Relationships with Your Patients: A Guide to Patient Relations in Healthcare

Positive patient relations are key to success in healthcare. It’s not just about happy patients, but also about better health outcomes, improved quality of care, and a more fulfilling work environment for everyone involved.

Why Invest in Patient Relations?

Studies show that strong patient-provider relationships, built on trust and communication, lead to better health outcomes. Patients who understand their conditions and feel involved in their care are more likely to follow through with treatment plans, leading to better results.

According to the Duke Center for Personalized Healthcare, positive patient relations enabled by effective communication with each patient and each involved family member help improve health outcomes.

When healthcare providers work on their patient relations skills, they enable a deeper understanding of health conditions and treatment options. And when patients understand more, they have the information and tools they need to comply with their care plans.

Whether they’re working at an urgent care clinic, medical center, emergency department, or children’s hospital, clinicians who embrace collaborative decision-making and treat patients as partners more often achieve health goals. Provider-patient relations are built on trust and mutual respect — that’s why today’s patient-centered care model encourages the cultivation of patient relations in the creation of every care plan.

A strong patient-provider relationship improves patient care, and thus patient satisfaction. That’s why patient relations programs are being incorporated into medical education and hospital policies. Your office of quality monitoring in every state allows patients to file patient safety concerns and patient relations complaints about health care organizations and support services at jointcommission.org. Every day, every staff member and care team member has an opportunity to support their organization’s patient relations department to improve healthcare delivery.

Why How to Build Stronger Patient Relations:

Here are 7 key steps healthcare professionals can take to build stronger patient relations:

1. Recognize the impact

Understand that positive patient relations directly affect treatment effectiveness. Patients are more likely to adhere to plans when they trust their healthcare providers.

Research published by the National Institutes of Health has shown that positive patient relations have a statistically significant effect on outcomes. Treatment efficacy relies on patient compliance, yet people aren’t as likely to comply with the instructions of a clinician they don’t trust.

For example, a study published in Health Affairs found that almost two-thirds of patients who trust their healthcare providers always take their medications, whereas only 14% of those with low levels of trust take theirs. The Journal of Medical Ethics suggests: “An alternative, more trustworthy (but slower) way of building trust is for physicians to encourage questioning, to be open about the uncertainties and to take on responsibility for those uncertainties.” If you want patients to adhere to their treatment plans and manage their symptoms, first manage their trust.

2. Build rapport

Go beyond the clinical and connect with patients on both an intellectual and emotional level. Explain conditions and treatments clearly, but also show genuine compassion and interest in their individual experiences.

Researchers at Stanford Medicine conducted research to determine how to improve patient relations at the critical moment when physicians and patients meet to transform it from institutional procedure to human connection. They found that: “Being present is essential to the well-being of both patients and caregivers, and it is fundamental to establishing trust in all human interactions. Being present is integral to the art and the science of medicine and predicates the quality of medical care.”

To build positive relations connect with patients intellectually by providing robust but easily digestible education on conditions and treatments — and emotionally, by demonstrating genuine compassion and curiosity about their personal health experiences and lifestyles.

Physician’s Weekly suggests making it a habit of spending the first minute asking patients questions that don’t entail medical care. Begin forging a personal relationship by simply asking how their day is going or even what they do in your free time. Getting to know the person behind the patient can go a long way.

3. Listen to your patients.

Don’t just hear what patients say, listen to understand their concerns and perspectives. Encourage them to share their stories, ask open-ended questions, and actively listen to their responses.

The Harvard Business Review reports that “not taking the time to listen to and understand the patient harms both the patient and the clinician, who won’t have the benefit of pooled knowledge, and ability to make fully informed mutual decisions.” It recommends not only listening to what’s wrong with patients, but hearing what matters to them.

Encourage patients to tell their story of illness or partial recovery; you should restate the information they share in your own words. Ask open-ended questions during your exam, then listen and take notes. Next time you see the patient, refer to those details — they’ll be delighted to know you remember and respect their health history, lifestyle, and treatment preferences. Listening to and engaging with the people you treat is the best way to forge solid patient relations.

4. Embrace patient-centered care

Implement a Care Management system that focuses on individual patients’ needs and circumstances, making care more effective and efficient for both patients and healthcare providers.

Juggling clinical records with patient relations requires implementing a customized Care Management solution for your care team. Care Management is team-based care delivery that centers around patients — their specific conditions, circumstances, and demographics — to make their care and your costs more effective and efficient.

Studies cited in the Annals of Family Medicine have demonstrated that this approach works. Appropriate, timely interventions in a specific patient population can reduce health risks and promote better health while decreasing costs for healthcare systems.

5. Master positive body language.

Make patients feel welcome and cared for through simple nonverbal cues like maintaining eye contact, nodding to show you’re listening, and sitting close when possible.

During their daily hustle, healthcare providers often forget how much power they have to improve patient relations by simply practicing effective body language. Your patient-provider relationship will thrive organically when you make them feel welcome and cared for with these gestures:

  • Maintain eye contact
  • Nod to signify that you’re listening
  • Sit next to the patient if possible — research published by Patient Engagement HIT shows this simple habit can increase patient satisfaction
  • Focus on your conversation — don’t get distracted by colleagues or screens
  • Maintain an open posture — lean forward and don’t cross your arms
  • Smile whenever possible — you may be releasing endorphins (for them and for yourself)

6. Show empathy

Validate patients’ feelings by listening attentively and acknowledging their challenges. Use phrases like “So you’re saying…” and ask open-ended questions to understand their needs.

Patient relations can only improve once your patients feel like they’re being heard and understood. You can nurture these feelings by listening, then following up with phrases like “So are you saying that …”

Physician’s Weekly found that in just 60 seconds, you can project empathy and improve each patient-provider relationship by asking these quick questions:

  • How are you feeling today?
  • How is your condition affecting your lifestyle, energy, and mood?
  • What’s most troubling about your symptoms?
  • How are you nurturing yourself?

Then listen and don’t interrupt — patients are your most valuable source of information. Take note of their responses, then follow up with empathetic statements like: “That must be difficult.” Learn what they need so you can agree on what matters most before creating a care plan.

7. Respect cultural differences

Be mindful of cultural sensitivities and avoid behaviors that might be misinterpreted. Ask about cultural norms and communication styles, address language barriers, and ensure clear understanding.

Your patient-provider relationship can become strained when your behavior is culturally inappropriate for your patient. Researchers at Brown University found “a culturally sensitive lens will allow a provider to frame the patient’s presenting problem in a way that makes more sense for the patient, and this will allow for a treatment plan that will consider the strengths and barriers that a patient is facing.”

Your own cultural values and beliefs may conflict with theirs, so make sure to ask about any behavior norms or communication styles that may be jarring to them. Address language barriers and make sure they understand what you’re saying.

Physician’s Weekly recommends being mindful of the little things — observe what makes them nervous, what puts them at ease, what’s sacred, and what’s prohibited in their worldview. If you follow these tips, you’ll greatly improve your patient relations and relieve much stress for them and for yourself.

By following these steps, healthcare providers can create a foundation of trust and respect with their patients, leading to better health outcomes, increased patient satisfaction, and a more rewarding work environment.

The Welkin Difference for Patient Relations

OUr Care Management platform can help healthcare teams improve patient relations by:

  • Reaching more patients
  • Improving health outcomes
  • Reducing team burnout
  • Lowering healthcare costs

Welkin streamlines care coordination, allowing you to assign the right team member to address patient needs at every step, creating a seamless and personalized experience for each patient.

Learn more about how you can be patient-centered by downloading and filling out our patient-centered care checklist.

Make your program more care-centric today.

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