How to build a patient’s trust

Learn how to build a patient’s trust through positive communication and relationship-building strategies.

How to build a patient’s trust


Research has repeatedly shown patients achieve better overall health outcomes when they trust their physicians.

Yet some patients’ trust in healthcare providers has been shaken by the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic. According to a recent survey commissioned by the American Board of Internal Medicine Foundation, 32% of patient respondents reported decreased trust in healthcare systems following the pandemic.

So, how can you—as a physician—rebuild or continue to build trust with your patients? The answer may boil down to one key factor: making the most of your face-to-face time with them.


Maximize the patient visit

When patients feel their physician spends too little time interacting with them, it can be one of the largest factors driving mistrust, according to the ABIM Foundation survey.

To combat this, take the time to get to know your patients—whether you’re meeting them in person or via a telehealth appointment. Ask about their lives outside the medical visit. Inquire about their families, careers or hobbies so you can learn about your patients beyond their case files.

Additionally, encourage all staff members to recognize their power to shape a patient’s experience during office visits—for better or worse. A recent survey by Deloitte Insights found one-third of patient respondents had skipped or avoided healthcare because they “did not like the way their healthcare provider or staff had treated them” during a previous visit.

Set an expectation that staff members should greet all patients with courtesy, patience and a friendly smile, so patients view your office as a place they will always feel welcome and respected.


Practice good communication

Fourteen percent of patients in the ABIM Foundation survey attributed their lack of physician trust to a feeling that their doctor did not listen to them. An additional three percent linked mistrust to a lack of eye contact from their doctor.

These results make one thing clear: your body language—and overall communication style—play a vital role in building trust.

Make it a habit to use positive communication strategies when you interact with patients:

  • Listen to your patients and maintain good eye contact when they’re describing their symptoms or health concerns.
  • Avoid seeming rushed or in a hurry to get to your next patient.
  • Show empathy or compassion when patients share details of painful experiences.
  • Ask follow-up questions to show your patients you’re listening to their concerns.
  • Allow your patients ample time to ask questions about the treatment plan you’re prescribing.


Stay informed and share your knowledge

When you read the latest journal articles in your field or attend medical conferences focused on your specialty, rest assured this is time well spent. Staying abreast of cutting-edge developments and research in your area of expertise is another essential step in building trust with your patients.

After all, patients are more likely to trust physicians with a clear knowledge of their field.

When speaking with patients, remember to share your medical expertise in terms that everyone can understand:

  • Avoid overly specific medical jargon when explaining a medical technique or procedure.
  • Carefully describe currently available treatment options and the pros and cons of each.
  • Fully explain why you recommend a particular medication or treatment plan for their specific situation.


Be honest

Of course, you can’t build trust without honesty, and that holds true for physician-patient relationships as well. So always be honest with your patients. If you don’t know an answer to a question immediately, tell them so—and promise you’ll help them find it.

And, as hard as it is to have to deliver bad news, build and maintain trust with your patients by communicating health assessments with honesty, directness and compassion.

Remember that the way you convey difficult news to your patients sets the foundation for your relationship with them going forward. If they see you as someone they can depend upon to provide accurate and reliable information—in good times or in bad—they’re more likely to view you as a trusted, long-term health care advocate.



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