15 Tips for Bridging the Doctor-Patient Divide to Strengthen Communication

Katie Sawyer

Katie Sawyer

February 15, 2019

15 Tips for Bridging the Doctor-Patient Divide to Strengthen Communication

Katie Sawyer,
February 15, 2019

15 Tips for Bridging the Doctor-Patient Divide to Strengthen Communication

A key aspect of modern healthcare should be effective communication to bridge the doctor-patient divide. Instead, The New York Times reports that since 1996, the trust that Americans have in doctors has dropped from around 75% to 34%. It is becoming increasingly difficult for patients to believe that doctors or other healthcare professionals will give accurate and unbiased advice. This belief is held because most doctors have gained a reputation for suggesting procedures and products to make a profit, which can sometimes be at the patient’s expense. Therefore, the doctor-patient divide continues to grow.

Patient trust is important for the healthcare practice and the patient. If patients do not trust the person giving them medical advice, they are less likely to follow the advice or engage in other healthy behavior. They may also be less inclined to visit a particular practice again if they have a bad experience.

How can healthcare professionals work on bridging the doctor-patient divide?

The first step is to ensure their locations are equipped with a workforce management software solution that’s going to work to ensure they’re adequately staffed to deal with any and all patient requests. If this sounds good to you, take a look at Deputy. The workforce management platform that’s simple to use & 100% employee friendly in regards to its user interface. To see it in action for yourself, click on the link below to begin your free trial and to see why its trusted by brands like Nike & Amazon.


That said, here are 15 practical tips to building better relationships with your patients.

1. Introduce yourself and your role

Despite the technological advances in medicine and the growth in healthcare companies changing the industry, most people are nervous about going into a doctor’s office. They may have fears of needles, bad news or of serious procedures. These fears are made worse if they do not know who the people working around them are, or if they do not understand what’s being done to them.

15 Tips for Bridging the Doctor-Patient Divide to Strengthen Communication

Strengthen doctor-patient communication by taking the time to introduce yourself, your position and what you have come to do. This transparency with the patient will help to ease their mind. It will also establish you as an authority in your practice. If someone is going to perform surgery on the patient, the patient needs to know that the person is qualified to do so.

Performing exams or procedures on a patient can feel like an invasion of privacy. The patient has to be comfortable with being examined, feeling pain or even being unconscious in your presence. Build trust with your patients by introducing yourself and telling them about your experience to ease their minds and to make them more comfortable.

2. Display your qualifications

Healthcare professionals spend a significant amount of time and money getting qualified for their position. Make these qualifications easy for patients to see. Hang them on the walls of the waiting room or in your office. This will give patients confidence in your abilities.

Find out about new classes and seminars to update you on the latest findings about opening and running a successful healthcare business. Display your certificates from industry bodies to show patients that you are keeping up with your industry. If you took a course updating you on a procedure that the patient is considering, mention this to your patient. This type of communication will help bridge the doctor-patient divide, by showing your patient that you know what you are doing.

3. Show you are knowledgeable

When a patient is facing health problems, it’s likely they’ll have a lot of questions and feel at a loss about what to do next. It’s important that you know which options are available to them and know enough about each option to answer general questions.

15 Tips for Bridging the Doctor-Patient Divide to Strengthen Communication

You do not have to be an expert in every field. However, you should be able to answer some common questions regarding topics like:

  • Cost
  • Invasiveness
  • Potential complications
  • Desired outcomes

4. Be on time

Some doctor’s offices have a negative reputation for long waits and late appointments. Being on time will create a great reputation for your practice. Your patients will feel like they can rely on you to see them quickly and respect their time. This respect will help to close the doctor-patient divide.

15 Tips for Bridging the Doctor-Patient Divide to Strengthen Communication

Being on time for every patient may be a difficult goal to attain because it’s important that you have the proper amount of time to perform examinations, give the patient informed advice and to encourage doctor-patient communication. It’s inevitable that you will be late sometimes. However, you can make an effort to keep conversations focused and keep your processes as efficient as possible.

Consider creating more buffer time between appointments to allow for a few extra minutes of unexpected conversation. You should also consider using an electronic health record (EHR) system like Practice Fusion to set patient’s appointments. Your EHR should also be able to remind patients of their appointment times, which should reduce the number of latecomers.

5. Use clear language

It can be easy to use industry jargon when talking about a patient’s situation. What may seem like a clear explanation to you may be difficult for the patient to understand. It’s crucial that you communicate with patients in a clear and understandable way, in order to bridge the doctor-patient divide. If a patient does not understand you from the beginning, it could be difficult for them to ask questions to clarify.

When you’re explaining what’s going on with a patient, ask questions to make sure that they are following along with you.

You can ask:

  • Whether there is anything that you said that they did not understand.
  • If there is something that they would like to go over again.

This level of communication should also extend to your nursing and administrative staff. You should train your staff about how to effectively communicate with patients because every positive interaction a patient has with your practice, will result in bridging the doctor-patient divide.

6. Let the patient see the same person every time

People like routines and consistency, especially in relation to something as important as their health. Seeing the same person every time they visit your practice will be comforting during a potentially stressful time. If a patient sees you consistently over the years, the trust that they build with you will continue to grow.

15 Tips for Bridging the Doctor-Patient Divide to Strengthen Communication

7. Ensure confidentiality

Confidentiality is important for your employees and your patients. It’s likely to already be a high priority in your healthcare practice. Sharing health records with an unauthorized person can result in legal action that will cost your practice in terms of finances and reputation.

A single breach of confidentiality can destroy all of the hard work that you have put into bridging the doctor-patient divide. Ensure that your practice is compliant with laws in relation to patient confidentiality. Also, be sure to keep up with patient confidentiality facts and updates.

8. Practice active listening

As a health professional, you probably have paperwork to fill out for each patient. Some of this paperwork may be completed while you are asking your patient questions. However, it is important that your patient knows that they are your primary focus.

15 Tips for Bridging the Doctor-Patient Divide to Strengthen Communication

Make sure that you are not spending too much time staring at paperwork or a computer screen. Make eye contact with the patient regularly while they are talking. You can nod or give some other confirmation that you understand what they’re saying. Summarize what they have told you so that you can make sure you are on the same page. Displaying signs of active listening will encourage better doctor-patient communication.

9. Prioritize honesty

Patients are likely to respect a doctor who does not hide the truth. Without being rude, be transparent and tell your patients the reality of the situation. Let them know if they are in for a difficult recovery and help them figure out how they can get through it. If they need to make a significant lifestyle change, tell them why and what will happen if they do not make the change.

Patients may get emotional when being told distressing news. However, if you do not share everything they need to know, they may search for details on their own and find incorrect information. Alternatively, they may get a second opinion and realize that you were not being honest with them.

Prioritize doctor-patient communication by giving patients all of the information they need. Do what you can to equip them so that they’re clear about a diagnosis and any potential treatment.

10. Show respect

Sometimes, patients do not make the best decisions for themselves in relation to their health. For example, a patient who smokes cigarettes may resist giving up even when they are experiencing negative consequences. As frustrating as this is, you should not lose your temper or make disparaging comments to patients who are not making the right decisions for their health.

15 Tips for Bridging the Doctor-Patient Divide to Strengthen Communication

Being disrespectful towards patients will increase the doctor-patient divide and make the patient feel like they cannot be open and honest with you. A lack of respect is likely to discourage a patient from visiting your practice again.

Help bridge the doctor-patient divide by giving good, honest advice and allowing the patient to make their own decisions. They may make the wrong choice but your job as a doctor is to inform them of the problem and potential solutions.

11. Suggest products you are confident in

Some popular television personalities have damaged the credibility of healthcare professionals everywhere. These television personalities are sometimes more focused on making money from sponsorships than they are on selling what’s best for patients. These types of sales tactics furthers the doctor-patient divide. This behavior has caused patients to be suspicious of doctors. Patients are concerned that the doctor will get some benefit for suggesting a certain product or service. Patients need to know their health and wellbeing is your priority.

15 Tips for Bridging the Doctor-Patient Divide to Strengthen Communication

To protect yourself, your patients and your practice, only suggest treatments that you really believe in. Promoting a product or service because they help sustain your practice will make patients nervous that you don’t have their best interest at heart.

12. Be calm

Even if you feel overwhelmed by the day-to-day operation of your practice, you must always keep your composure when dealing with patients. If a patient sees that you’re flustered, they will lose confidence in you. Bridge the doctor-patient divide by being calm in the presence of your patient.

Think about using the latest technology to help your practice run smoothly. For example, if you utilize hourly staff, being understaffed can be a major source of stress for patients as well as for the owners.

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13. Validate emotions

Telling a frightened patient that it’s okay to be scared can help them calm down in a stressful situation. Some medical procedures can be dangerous and difficult to endure. Letting the patient know that it’s normal and understandable to be concerned will show that you care about their mental health, emotional wellbeing, and physical health. This will help them to trust you with more information that may be difficult or uncomfortable to share. This openness will strengthen doctor-patient communication.

14. Have casual conversations

Beginning an appointment with a casual, light conversation can help ease the nerves of patients. Ask about weekend plans or recent events, for example, sporting events. Bridge the doctor-patient divide by reminding them that you are both just people and they do not have to be nervous about visiting your practice. This approach will make the patient feel that you really care about them.

15. Prompt questions

Some people can be outspoken, while others can be shy. Outspoken people may feel comfortable asking questions as they think of them. A shy person may be more reserved. Prompt your patients multiple times throughout the appointment to ask questions.

15 Tips for Bridging the Doctor-Patient Divide to Strengthen Communication

This habit will help shy patients to open up and create better doctor-patient communication. These patients will be more likely to visit you again as they have built a level of comfort and trust with you.

There are many ways to build trust and strengthen communication with your patients. One strategy is to operate a fully-staffed and efficient healthcare practice.

Sign up for a free trial of Deputy (no credit card required!) by clicking on the button below to find out why over 90,000 businesses trust us with their staff scheduling and workforce management.


Important Notice
The information contained in this article is general in nature and you should consider whether the information is appropriate to your needs. Legal and other matters referred to in this article are of a general nature only and are based on Deputy's interpretation of laws existing at the time and should not be relied on in place of professional advice. Deputy is not responsible for the content of any site owned by a third party that may be linked to this article and no warranty is made by us concerning the suitability, accuracy or timeliness of the content of any site that may be linked to this article. Deputy disclaims all liability (except for any liability which by law cannot be excluded) for any error, inaccuracy, or omission from the information contained in this article and any loss or damage suffered by any person directly or indirectly through relying on this information.

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Katie Sawyer
Katie is the Director of Content Marketing at Deputy. She's happiest when she can help people do more of what they love. She likes telling stories, meeting new people, and being a word nerd.
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