June 2016

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June 2016

Why Your Patients Feel So Disconnected – And What You Can Do About It

In 1966, three out of four Americans (76 percent) had great confidence in the medical profession and trusted their doctors. Flash forward 50 years to 2016. Recent surveys find that only 33 percent of US adults have great confidence in the medical profession – an obviously significant drop. What happened?

According to a recent study from ZocDoc, patients feel a growing distrust of medical professionals. In that study, 30 percent of women and 23 percent of men admitted lying to their doctors in response to questions about diet, exercise, smoking and alcohol use, or not telling them everything due to embarrassment or feeling rushed for time during their appointment.

It’s clear that today’s doctors and patients are struggling to make real connections with each other. It’s difficult to build a relationship during the typical 15 minutes of appointment time. A 2001 University of South Carolina study found that primary-care patients were typically allowed 12 seconds to speak or describe their complaint before being interrupted by their physician.

What They Don’t Teach in Medical School Really Hurts

It’s a disservice to student doctors not to teach empathy, communication and relationships – the things patients want most – in medical school. Life experience alone cannot prepare new doctors for confronting pain and suffering all day, any more than life experience alone can prepare you to golf like Tiger Woods. We are putting too many of our new doctors at a distinct disadvantage.

Fortunately, that’s changing. Medical schools have finally begun incorporating the doctor-patient relationship into their curriculums. Duke University Medical Center is just one of several first-rate schools to offer training in what’s known as “medical humanism.” Duke’s oncology fellows take “Empathetics,” a series of online courses focused on clinical empathy and improving patient relationships. At Stony Brook University Medical School in New York, a mandatory course teaches future doctors and nurses to pay closer attention to the patient’s experience. Students learn how to connect with patients, express empathy and listen attentively.

“We teach students how to respond empathically to patients; ask questions not just about their history of disease, but how they are coping with their diagnosis and what they’re most fearful of,” said Stephen G. Post, PhD, director of the Stony Brook’s Center for Medical Humanities, Compassionate Care and Bioethics.

Compassionate Care Is the Key to Your Patients’ Trust

Patients often complain that they feel rushed, like their doctor is not really with them or they’re just another number. In each of these situations, trust is the first casualty. But if your patient feels you truly care, trust grows.

According to numerous medical reports and studies, empathy and compassion improve patient outcomes. Positive doctor-patient relationships make a significant difference in health outcomes for obesity, diabetes, hypertension, asthma, pulmonary infections and osteoarthritis pain treatments. When healthcare providers treat patients compassionately, patients enjoy lower blood pressure, less pain, reduced anxiety and faster healing.

Studies have also shown diagnostic improvements when you make empathic connections with your patients. When patients feel they are being listened to and heard, when they are allowed time to tell you things about themselves that are diagnostically relevant, diagnosis becomes easier and more accurate.

Doctors Want More Time With Their Patients, Too

Most doctors who report professional dissatisfaction say they can no longer connect meaningfully with their patients due to workplace pressures, including healthcare systems’ protocols and piles of billing and insurance paperwork. Physicians are often rushed through their patient visits, leading to dissatisfaction on both sides. As it stands today, the American healthcare system does not allow time for empathetic human connections.

There is something inherently wrong with having both the most expensive health care in the world and the highest level of patient dissatisfaction. That’s one of the main reasons why so many physicians and healthcare providers are turning to concierge or direct-pay membership models, which allow them to provide exceptional patient care and regain patient trust without the restrictions of insurance-based care.

Patients also need to be more empathetic toward their doctors. Many patients are unaware of the inordinate stresses their doctors are under – the heavy paperwork and endless stream of patients they have to see on a daily basis – driven by the insurance model. Patient education is critical to fostering this empathy.

Practice Builders helps physicians, dentists and other healthcare providers communicate more effectively with patients. We also help physicians and other healthcare providers who switch their practices to concierge or direct-pay models communicate those changes to patients and market themselves to new patients. We also provide staff customer service excellence training and many other healthcare marketing services designed to improve patient communication and build trust.

Learn more about these services by calling Practice Builders at (855).898.2710 or email

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