Physicians Starting a New Job Must Consider Patient Trust
You’ve worked with your physician recruiter to find the perfect new position. You may have done some due diligence on both your future colleagues and the administrators you’ll be working with. All of that legwork is excellent preparation for making a positive first impression at your new job. And though you may familiarize yourself with some important aspects of the new patient population you will serve, ultimately the success falls upon the one-on-one interactions you have with those patients. You can’t predict personalities – but study after study confirms that many patients have certain commonalities when it comes to seeing an unfamiliar physician. The very nature of health is highly personal. Addressing concerns creates a sense of vulnerability in patients. This vulnerability in turn creates anxiety as patients relay often intimate information to a stranger. But how to allay fears? Physicians must strive to foster a sense of trust.
Trust does more than reduce anxiety in individual patients. An international study published in The Lancet found that a country’s level of pandemic preparedness was not the best predictor of mortality rates but rather, better outcomes were dictated by the level of trust citizens had in their governments and healthcare providers. That and similar data suggest that effective healthcare cannot ignore the need to build trusting relationships.
Most patients enter a healthcare relationship with a prior belief that physicians in general are knowledgeable. Indeed, stringent hiring practices, physician recruiters and healthcare staffing agencies ensure that practitioners are well qualified. What patients want is a sense that their doctor sees them as an individual, is compassionate, judgement-free and caring enough to address their concerns. Fortunately, there are actionable ways to demonstrate these qualities.
Here are three proven ways a physician can build feelings of trust in new patients at the outset of care.
Practitioners may forget that the patient has a limited understanding of even longstanding medical conditions. Even if an ailment has been explained at the outset, chances are that anxiety interfered in perception. Patients are susceptible to selective hearing when it comes to the worst-case scenario. In some cases, they worry unnecessarily or to an extreme when unwarranted by the medical facts. Physicians do well to assume their new patient is experiencing at least some level of trepidation and leverage the power of reassurance – even alongside potentially negative outcomes. According to data gathered in a 2017 study published by BioMed, providers can “foster strength and resilience by simply reassuring the patient.” One of the participants in that study, diagnosed with HIV and identified only as “Jim” reported, “it’s a scary diagnosis. I want to sit in front of the doctor and the doctor to tell me like, you know you’re okay.”
Not only does reassurance lower anxiety levels, it leads to better outcomes. Frightened patients may not follow up on care options without some level of belief that treatments can be effective. In addition, beginning from a positive perspective makes it more likely that even a worsening condition will be perceived as worthy of continuing treatment.
Helping patients to fully understand their challenges and the ways to best address them builds trust in the very first interaction. Because many patients come in with faith in the medical practitioners they encounter, they can be reticent to ask for clarification or transparency. Research shows that many are concerned that asking questions might be offensive to the physician. For this reason, physicians should specifically indicate that questions are welcome and use patience when clarifying.
In particular, patients report that they would like to understand how they were diagnosed rather than simply be informed of the physician’s conclusions. Physicians should go over lab results and explain in simple terms both why the test was done and what the results may indicate. Treatment options should also be explained in terms of what specifics each would address, potential side effects and how any mitigation of symptoms would come about.
Patients who understand their health challenges, symptoms and outlook are more confident in their ability to direct care. Though many physicians may have a firm idea of the proper course of action, they must take the patient into account, seeing each as a unique individual. Not all treatment goals are the same and personal preferences may require some flexibility in how a condition is addressed. In many ways, physicians must be tasked with learning as much as their patients. Asking questions and challenging assumptions is key.
Patients trust doctors who discuss different options and work with input. Making personal choices about care leads to a sense of self-efficacy which bolsters motivation to stay on track for good results.
Your physician recruiter will help you prepare to make the best first impressions among your new colleagues. Patient impressions, however, are up to you. Healthcare outcomes are better when patients have a productive and open dialogue with providers. Transparency, encouragement and a genuine collaboration between physicians and their patients lead to enduring relationships that ensure success for everyone.