Despite their unique medical concerns, all patients have the same basic needs: to be heard, respected and cared for. One of the most effective ways to meet these needs is to establish and build patient rapport. In this blog post, we’ll explore what patient rapport is and seven tactics that you can employ to help build it.
What is patient rapport?
At its core, patient rapport is the positive relationship or connection that exists between a clinician and a patient. It is a relationship that is characterized by agreement, mutual understanding, trust and empathy between both parties. Clinicians that take the time to build patient rapport are better able to teach and influence their patients, improving the quality of care that is provided and enhancing patient outcomes.
7 Easy Steps to Help You Build Patient Rapport
1. Introduce Yourself
When you are busy attending to the needs of multiple patients, it is tempting to brush past formalities and get on with the task(s) at hand. However, the simple act of pausing to introduce yourself to the patient (and any family members or friends that might be in the room) can go a long way in setting the right tone for subsequent interactions.
Your introduction does not need to be overly formal or long winded. For instance, a simple “Hi, my name is ____ and I’ll be your nurse today” is all that is really needed to get things started off right. Once your patient knows who you are and why you are there, it will be much easier to attend to their needs. After all, who doesn’t want to be on a first-name basis with those that are poking and prodding their bodies?
2. Practice Active Listening
Actively listening to what your patient says is integral to establishing patient rapport. First and foremost, active listening is more than just hearing the words that your patient speaks. It involves giving your patient your undivided attention, seeking to understand what the patient is really attempting to communicate and appropriately responding to the information that you receive.
Successful active listeners use both verbal and non-verbal communication skills to convey interest and understanding and to solicit more information. For instance, when your patient is talking to you, you can show that you are actively listening by maintaining a comfortable level of eye contact, nodding your head when appropriate and asking clarifying questions after your patient has finished speaking. Consistently applying this technique will help your patient feel validated, increasing the likelihood of receptivity when you speak.
Active listening is more than just hearing the words that your patient speaks. It involves giving your patient your undivided attention, seeking to understand what the patient is really attempting to communicate and appropriately responding to the information that you receive.
3. Communicate Often and Well
When building patient rapport, it is important to remember that what is routine and mundane for you can be confusing and upsetting for your patient. While you know how long it takes to receive lab results, when the doctor will make his/her rounds and what the treatment plan will entail, all of this will be new information for your patient. As a result, you may notice that your patient is stressed and forgetful, common indicators of information overload. Transparency and communication are key to avoid an angry or upset patient.
Your willingness to be an effective communicator can help remedy this problem. For example, after drawing blood for lab work, let you patient know when they can expect results and a follow-up from their doctor. If the doctor is running late, provide a quick update on when the doctor is expected to arrive. Most importantly, don’t be afraid to repeat information. While you may feel you’re being redundant, your patient will more than likely appreciate the gentle reminders and your efforts to help them adjust.
4. Minimize Jargon
While there is nothing unprofessional about using the correct medical terminology with your patients, the reality is that they will most likely not understand what you are saying (unless they are a medical professional as well). Since achieving mutual understanding is a key component of patient rapport, using familiar words and concepts will help you communicate more effectively. The following list of medical terms and appropriate substitutions is illustrative of the word choices that you can make to improve your patient interactions:
- Acute – Substitute with words like intense, sharp or strong
- Atypical – Substitute with “not completely normal”
- Benign – Substitute with words like non-life-threatening and non-spreading
- Hypertension – Substitute with “high blood pressure”
- Idiopathic – Substitute with “unknown cause”
- Malignant – Substitute with words like harmful and aggressive
- Tachycardia – Substitute with “fast heart rate”
5. Know Them on a Personal Level
According to an article by Psychology Today, people enjoy talking about themselves because it “activates the same areas of the brain that light up when eating food, taking drugs and even having sex.” In essence, talking about one’s self is a “gratifying” experience that provides a “neurological buzz.” Therefore, it follows that one of the fastest ways to establish patient rapport is by personally getting to know those under your care.
Getting to know your patients on a personal level can easily be achieved by asking open-ended questions that promote conversation. For instance, while you are performing a routine task, you can ask your patient what they want to do when they are feeling better or how they are related to those adorable kids that stopped by their room earlier. Their answers can then be used to spark future conversations (i.e. How was your granddaughter’s dance recital?). This practice will not only make for more pleasant interactions, it will also show that you are an active listener that cares about the whole person.
6. Mirror Behavior
Another highly effective tactic that can be used to establish patient rapport is mirroring. Simply put, mirroring involves adopting gestures, speech patterns, postures, tones, etc. that are similar to your patient’s. Subconsciously, mirroring sends the message that you and your patient are alike, that you are likely to be a friend. Clinicians that actively practice mirroring establish deeper levels of trust and comfort with their patients than those clinicians that do not.
One of the most effective ways to mirror your patient is to watch how they communicate. Are they a person that gets straight to the point? Do they use a lot of details when answering questions? Do they talk fast or slow? Taking the time to mirror your patient’s communication style will help ensure that you are speaking in a way that your patient understands.
Providing your patients with the information and resources they need to successfully manage their own health is another powerful strategy for building patient rapport. Throughout the course of your day, you undoubtedly have opportunities to informally educate your patients about what choices will lead to improved health and what signs/symptoms should be carefully watched out for. These teaching moments should leave your patient feeling confident and empowered, increasing the positivity of your interactions.
When educating your patients, it will be important to determine if your patient understands and retains what you have taught. One easy technique for testing their knowledge is to ask them situational questions. For instance, you can ask your patient, a type 1 diabetic, what they would do when they start to sweat, shake and feel tired. This simple technique will reinforce the concepts that you have taught and will show your care and concern for their well-being.
While building patient rapport requires an investment of time and effort, it is an investment that will pay dividends over the course of your career. Not only will it improve patient satisfaction and outcomes, it will improve your personal satisfaction on the job.
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