Communications Tips to Enhance Doctor-Patient Relationship

Four approaches that can help to establish an excellent doctor-patient relationship

In this edition, Dr. Saketh Guntupalli, a gynecologic oncologist and author, suggests what doctors should do to improve their relationships with their patients and their families.

Video transcript

Bedside manner is obviously the bedrock by which you develop your doctor-patient relationship. How patients perceive you when you’re in the clinic and when you are making rounds in the hospital is of utmost importance to really develop a strong doctor-patient relationship. There are several studies that have looked at how doctors are successful, and how doctors build those skills into these very large practices. There are four ways in which you can maximize the interaction that you have with patients with regards to your doctor-patient relationship and bedside manner.

Allot the appropriate amount of time with the patient

The first is allotting the appropriate amount of time. If you look at what patients complain the most about, they tend to feel that doctors are very rushed. We have all been on the other side of that when we gone to see our own doctors and we feel that the doctor is not listening or just is trying to get through so that they can get to the next patient encounter.

This is very important to keep in mind, because when you spend time with patients, they certainly get that feeling that you are invested in them and that you care. So obviously, allotting the right amount of time, particularly when you have to deliver bad news, is incredibly important.

Maintain good eye contact

The second thing is eye contact. I think that eye contact is probably the most important thing that you can do when you are interacting with the patient, aside from the amount of time that you spend. It’s important because if you’re constantly looking elsewhere, you’re looking at other things, you’re distracted, it gives the patient the sense that you’re not being completely truthful with them. So, maintaining good eye contact, and not just with the patient but with the patient’s family, is incredibly important.

Be seated to “level the playing field”

The other thing that I think is very important that I use in my practice, particularly when I am making rounds in the hospital, is to, what I call, “level the playing field.” What I mean by that is to put yourself in the position of the patient. You are sick. You are lying in bed. And a group of physicians, residents, medical students and nurses, come in and they are all surrounding you. That can be, on a very basic level, threatening.

What I think can help ease that feeling is to actually sit down when you talk to patients. I try to bring a stool in or bring a chair in, and actually sit down when I am talking to the patient about what happened in the OR the day before, what chemotherapy we’re going to give them, what the treatment plan is going to be, etc. When you have that eye-level contact with patients, they really appreciate that and they trust you more, and they feel that you are very invested in them and you are very kind.

Have a family member in the room

Lastly, I think one of the tricks that is very important in developing a good doctor-patient relationship is having a family member in the room. This is good for the patient and the doctor. It is good for the patient because that person can act as a scribe and can take notes, particularly in very long discussions when you’re discussing various options such as surgery or medical interventions. I think it is very important to have another person in the room, so they can take notes.

The other reason that it is important as it gives patients the sense that they have an advocate for them in the room. It gives them a sense that there is somebody there who will advocate and stand up for them.

Bottom line: These four things are probably the most important things to establishing a strong doctor-patient relationship. They are easy. They do not take a lot of time. And I think that, overall, they really do help and benefit excellent communication between the doctor and the patient.