Have you ever wondered why patients put off going to the doctor much longer than they should? Most Americans would say they’ve done this at least once in their lifetime. The reasons are not always the same, but a lot of people are uneasy about going to the doctor. For some, it’s a fear of a terrible diagnosis or a confirmation of poor health choices. For others, it’s a phobia about needles or certain procedures. Sometimes, it’s just a matter of feeling embarrassed about whatever problem is warranting the doctor visit. Whatever the reason, a lot of people put off going to the doctor. However, this is definitely not the best thing for anyone. One way to get patients to see their doctor regularly is to improve the doctor patient relationship.

Why Is It Important to Build the Doctor Patient Relationship?

In order to get the best healthcare possible, it’s important to have a good doctor patient relationship. As a doctor, you will be performing exams or procedures that might be slightly invasive or embarrassing, and you need to be able to talk to your patients openly and honestly. You want your patients to be completely honest about their symptoms. You want them to feel comfortable. To achieve this, you need a doctor-patient relationship built on trust.

doctor pointing on the laptop screen to a patient

Another reason to build the doctor patient relationship is that, when you see the same patient over a long period of time, you may be able to pick up on changes in their body that are only noticeable over time. You may even notice things about your patient that they haven’t noticed. Regular check-ups can be invaluable in catching any possible diseases early.

A final reason for having a good doctor-patient relationship is mental health. One of the most difficult areas in healthcare in the US is mental health care. There is still a lot of stigma surrounding mental illness, and it’s difficult to discuss. If your patient feels like they are struggling with a mental illness, it will be much easier to address with someone whom they have a solid relationship.

Tips for Medical Staff to Improve Relationships with Patients

The medical staff at any doctor’s office play a vital role in the doctor patient relationship. A patient should feel comfortable from the moment they enter the office. You are the first act when it comes to the narrative of their healthcare experience. You should make sure you’re covering the basics. They are:

An Inviting Space

Clear Instructions

Remember the Patients

Systems for Scheduling and Different Appointment Categories

Daily Clinic Meeting

Assign Staff Tasks and Roles Clearly

Practice Scripts for Difficult Interactions

Know How Long Patients Are Waiting

Tips for Physicians to Strengthen the Doctor Patient Relationship

In addition to making sure that the staff promotes a positive office environment, there are steps every physician should take to strengthen the doctor patient relationship. Some of them are as simple as showing empathy while others involve systems you can put in place to make the whole experience more positive for your patients. The following are several ways to improve the doctor-patient relationship:

doctor taking blood pressure on a patient

Start with Two-Way Communication

Ask Questions Using the BATHE Technique

Use Friendly and Caring Body Language and Nonverbal Communication

Rephrase What the Patient Has Said and Ask for Confirmation

Be Aware of Cultural Backgrounds and Your Own Biases

Look at Original X-Rays Instead of Relying on Reports

Focus on the Positives When Encouraging Lifestyle Changes

Give Staff Verbal Instructions Along with Notes


In a perfect world, the doctor patient relationship would be one that lasts a lifetime. If a patient could be followed by one doctor for his or her entire life, that physician would be intimately familiar with their medical history, their mental health history, and the patient’s personality. Unfortunately, that is rarely possible. We live in a time when people don’t live their whole lives in one location, and insurance companies or job changes cause patients to have to find new doctors. It’s not a perfect situation, but there are things you can do as a practice to improve the doctor patient relationship.

First, work with your staff to emphasize that positive relationships are valued in your office. Make sure your office is welcoming and that your team is prepared to make patients feel at ease. Keep the lines of communication open between doctor and staff, and doctor and patient. Make sure that staff clearly understand instructions, goals, and their individual responsibilities. Keep up with wait times and never let a patient feel “forgotten.” Make sure your staff has a plan to deal with difficult situations so they don’t escalate into the loss of a patient.

doctor treating a patient

When you are with a patient, make that time about them. Take a seat. Make eye contact even if you are also writing things down. Actively listen and repeat what they say. Ask questions using the BATHE method. When making a diagnosis, review the scans and tests yourself. Watch your body language and be aware of cultural differences or language barriers. Let the patient ask questions and don’t rush them. Encourage them when they make positive changes and help them continue those positive changes by focusing on the good they’ve done rather than the bad. Be available. Remember that the doctor patient relationship is a relationship. It requires some give and take on both sides. If you are prepared to do these things and go into each day with a positive attitude, you will make a positive difference in the lives of all your patients.

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