Strategies for Building Patient Rapport

Psychiatric TimesVol 40, Issue 3

Here are 3 ways you can help prevent and overcome difficult situations with patients.

Africa Studio_AdobeStock

Africa Studio_AdobeStock


Patients may not always be at their best when they arrive for an appointment; they may be dealing with their illness or with stress from traveling, etc. As a result, they may be harsh or abusive to office staff, question medical judgment, or simply avoid telling the truth about treatment adherence and other activities. Here we focus on strategies to help prevent and overcome those difficult situations and behaviors.

Build a trusting relationship. Patients want to please their doctor, and they want to know you care about them. Keep notes on important aspects of patients’ lives and inquire about those aspects. How was their trip to Disney? How are the kids doing in sports? Asking personal questions and building rapport with the patient beyond addressing clinical issues creates a bond. It allows patients to feel safe in explaining personal concerns and creates an environment that encourages openness.

Praise the positive, not the negative. Patients almost expect bad news from their doctor—they need to lose weight, stay on their medications, stop drinking as much, or exercise more. For that reason, it is beneficial to showcase what the patient is doing well, especially if there are nonadherence issues. Recognition goes a long way toward an improved patient-physician alliance.

Set appropriate boundaries. Patients have a variety of challenges, and some may push for inappropriate medications, treat staff in an unacceptable manner, or become inconsiderate of appointment times. It is important to set boundaries and expectations at the onset of care.

The clinical expectation is that patients should be partners in care—not angry, frustrated, and nonadherent. By recognizing, preparing for, and trying to avert those unpleasant encounters, clinicians can foster a better patient experience and greater success.

Ms Hill is an Austin, Texas–based health care attorney and founder of Guard My Practice, an online video platform for doctors that provides 15-minute weekly sessions to guide them through subjects such as contract negotiations, fraud and abuse issues, employment conflicts, the basics of setting up a practice, and more.

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