The most important component of a patient-physician relationship is trust. When present, it can enhance treatment and improve outcomes. Without it, both parties can end up with less than optimal results. It can be difficult for many patients to be completely open with their doctors, since they might be uncomfortable sharing certain information. If a physician is not approachable or communicative, this too can make the process of establishing trust quite challenging.
According to a study published in the Journal of Healthcare Communications, being at a physician appointment can make a patient feel vulnerable and anxious, especially if they are not feeling well. If a patient does not relate to a doctor’s personality, they may withhold important information. Sociocultural influences can also affect these relationships. In some cases, a language barrier can prevent a patient from clearly understanding a diagnosis. Other factors include being angry because of a long wait time, unpleasant office staff, or unrealistic expectations.
How Physicians Can Build Trust
An article by The Journal of the American Medical Association explored how physician behaviors can improve these relationships. A doctor that is familiar with the patient’s background and medical history is better prepared to understand their concerns. Those that demonstrate empathy for their patients and are honest about conditions, options, and outcomes are more likely to gain a patient’s trust. This interpersonal communication should be efficient, effective, and truthful.
The article also stated that patient care evaluations should have components that measure how much they trust their physicians. This could help improve the organization’s overall standards of performance. It also suggested training focused on communications skills with consistent measures for accountability.
Improving Communication Skills
In physician-patient relationships, the medical information shared is just as significant as the way it is communicated. Physicians need to realize that each relationship will vary. Communicating a treatment plan for emphysema to a 50-year old female patient may require a different approach than sharing the same diagnosis with an 80-year old male patient. These communications should be individualized, as patients have widely-ranging perspectives, and interpret things differently. Patient satisfaction ratings increase if the respondents feel that their doctor has good communication skills.
Generally, the physician and staff should always strive to keep the patient comfortable and treat them with respect. This is a good baseline for creating a strong physician-patient relationship.
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