Patients trust doctors with their health. When we think about the patient-doctor relationship in this light, we realize just how important it is for the relationship to be a healthy one. When the relationship is strong, your patient’s health will improve. When it is not, the patient may suffer from a lack of clarity about the disease and diagnosis.
According to research from The PwC Health Research Institute, patients are expecting the same facilities and customer service from their medical practitioner as they would from a bank, hotel or airline. The PwC Health Research Institute surveyed thousands of patients to gauge their opinions of healthcare and found that active listening and transparency are the top priorities for patients when it comes to choosing a medical practitioner.
Getting a warm welcome when checking into a hotel shows friendliness, but in the doctor’s office, it can be a game changer. Today, patients are twice as likely to choose or reject a doctor on the basis of staff friendliness and attitude. While 70 percent of patients want doctors to offer multiple services under one roof, nearly 65 percent will appreciate the option to exchange information through smartphones.
However, the good news is that price is not a primary driver for most patients when it comes to choosing healthcare. A patient is more than twice as likely to prefer personal experience over price when selecting a doctor or medical facility.
A patient’s experience matters more than ever, not only because your doctor wants you to be well, but because policies and awareness are driving healthcare like never before. So patients have rights, including the right to participate in their healthcare rather than being an inactive patient. Here is a list of what patients expect and deserve from their doctors:
1. Transparency: It is acceptable if a physician does not know everything about their illness or diagnosis, but patients expect their doctors to share as much as possible. Uncertainty is okay, as long as patients are aware of the truth. Also, patients understand that doctors are humans, too, and that medical errors do occur. While patients usually never demand retribution, they do want a confession of the error and an assurance that the doctor is trying to fix the error. You must always educate your patients on the success rate and the risks involved with related procedures.
2. Active listening: When your patients leave your office after an appointment, do they feel like they are leaving a speech or a conversation? This is because conversations, and not lectures, will be helpful in improving your patients’ health. Patients want a doctor who respects their opinion, listens as they describe health issues and symptoms and asks follow-up questions in order to understand the cause of their illness. If you are always rushing through appointments, it can never be beneficial to anyone involved. Your medical should listen to your patients without interrupting them or making them feel rushed.
3. Trust: If a doctor is an active listener, patients will feel comfortable sharing every piece of information, including sensitive topics, assumptions, related myths and much more. In order to develop the best patient-doctor relationship, your patients must find you trustworthy enough to talk about other factors that affect their health. If they do not, you might not have made enough effort to earn their trust.
4. Care and connection: Patients instantly recognize the obvious signs of overtreatment, and they understand that more care is not equal to better care. Most patients stay cautious of ulterior motives of medical professionals and know that much money gets made in this profession. Patients want to be sure if they are getting the right care, without financial incentives getting in the way. Also, patients crave face-to-face interaction with their doctor. They want you to listen to them. Listening to your patients’ medical history is only the start; they also want you to connect with them on an emotional, physical and spiritual level.
5. Respect: If your patient is feeling cold, arrange for a blanket. If thirsty, get some water. Without addressing these underlying human needs, impressive offices and state-of-the-art equipment are useless. So forget the fancy ceiling and lighting and hire medical staff who will treat your patients with compassion and dignity. Also, patients will wait if they get what they want. Patients are not unhappy because they had to wait 30 minutes but because they did not get what they expected during their appointment with you. Do not make your patients wait for 45 minutes and then spend five minutes with them during the appointment. Such acts will make your patients feel ignored and disrespected.
6. Effective communication: Illness can suffocate even the bravest of souls. Diagnosis and procedures can be complicated, and a patient often feels vulnerable and helpless in your office, irrespective of their reason for being there. So the last thing they would expect is to walk out of your office without understanding a word you said. As a doctor, it is your responsibility to explain everything in a way your patient can understand. Don’t get upset or lose patience if you are asked to repeat or clarify instructions.
7. Time: Accept that some patients demand more time than others. Instead of rushing and handling five things in 10 minutes, pay attention to what your patients are saying. You must learn to value their time. You should allow ample time for your patients to ask as many questions as they want during an appointment.
8. Empathy: You can easily relate to your patient by asking about the daily schedule or eating habits. This kind of interaction creates a sense of connection, which will show your patient that you care. Always try to know and develop great relationships with your patients. If the patient is comfortable, feel free to ask personal histories, daily routine and lifestyle preferences. The medications that you prescribe may have side effects, and it is your duty to educate the patients about the potential risks and benefits. Also, patients are more likely to follow your instructions and return to your practice if they feel connected to you.
9. Access: If your patient is sick and wants to be seen, you must see him or her – even if that means working late or working through lunch hours. If you are not available when they need you, what good are you to them? Similarly, your patients should not have to wait for weeks for their lab results and make numerous calls to your office to receive them. You must consider electronic health records. EHRs may not be perfect, but they are helpful in simplifying communication and access-related issues. As a doctor, you must make sure your patients have access to their healthcare information.
10. Clear instructions: During an appointment, don’t make the mistake of rushing through instructions at an unintelligible pace. Be accurate and clear, and try to type out instructions that the patients can pick up when they leave. Always take the time to explain and simplify technical and medical terminology.
11. Collaboration: Your patients understand their body and life better than you do, and therefore you must get their consent before ordering a test or offering treatment. You must talk it through with your patients until they understand the purpose and implications of a test or treatment.