Doctor-Patient Relationships Rank at the Top

Doctor-PatientRelationshipsRank at theBy: Kriss Barlow, RN, MBA

I often search the web for interesting facts when I prepare talks or articles. When trolling, I found this survey conducted by the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research.  I think there are some really interesting implications for those of us who support healthcare providers in their messages.

The study shows that Americans do not think that information about the quality of health care providers is easy to come by, and they lack trust in information sources that tend to produce such indicators. When it comes to a quality health care provider, most Americans focus on the doctor patient relationship and their interactions in the doctor’s office.  So the question becomes, “How do we make certain the practice and the physicians manage this relationship?”  In referral development and marketing, much of our time and money is spent with getting new referrals- new patients to come to the practice. Ugh, what if the experience does not meet expectations?   Is there a role we can play in safeguarding against that?

In our practice development/marketing work, much of this starts with understanding baseline expectations at the onset. 

  • Conversations take time. It’s a bit of a push- pull isn’t it!  We want everyone to be more efficient, yet patients want more time and more conversation.  What’s the secret sauce for a limited physician interaction that leaves the patient feeling satisfied?
  • Charisma was not part of medical school training.  How do we help our doctors with the message and patient connection?  Or maybe the question that precedes this is, “How do we get our doctors to let us help them with this?”  Some doctors are so good at it while others, not so much.
  • Staffs have a huge impact. We often hear that the doctor is great but the office staff do not seem to have patient needs at the center.  Practice marketing is only effective when issues of culture are addressed.  And let’s admit, the physician can set the tone for how staff reacts. Often they don’t see the actions.  It reminds me of that adage from parenting, “Don’t do as I do, do as I say…” it does not work.

As we move to responsibility for the health of populations, teams of dedicated professionals will need to have trusted relationships with their populations.  What steps can we take to observe, document, coach and support at the practice level.  Here are a few ideas for staff who regularly work in the practices. Take the list and grow yours.

  1. Call out those who do it well.  If you have an employed practice that goes out of their way to make the experience good for their patients, call this out in your report.
  2. If you observe negatives make certain that you have a way to call attention to those. Do it in a way that is objective and impactful.
  3. When doctors join, make certain they clearly understand organization expectations.
  4. When you speak with the doctors, ask them about their patient engagement approach.  Call it out as important.
  5. When you take specialists out to see other doctors, suggest they share their philosophy for patient care besides talking about the latest-greatest procedures.

Having a relationship with the doctor feels so old-school but it still ranks at the top.  It requires little capital and has only upside. In the world of hospital relationships we can help this along, let’s do it!

If you are looking for a boost in either practice marketing or physician relations, drop me a line at

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