9 Tips to Improve the Physician-Patient Relationship

Quality care, empathy, and respect are the pillars of the physician-patient relationship. How can this bond be improved? We'll take a look in this article.
9 Tips to Improve the Physician-Patient Relationship
Leidy Mora Molina

Reviewed and approved by the nurse Leidy Mora Molina.

Last update: 09 October, 2022

Since ancient times, the physician-patient relationship has been structured as the cornerstone of the practice of medicine. This interaction is fundamental to health care and has evolved into what it is today.

Quality medical care, an accurate diagnosis, and timely treatment are healthcare acts that require an intrinsic collaboration between a physician and a patient. This relationship arises from humanism and ethics.

What is the doctor-patient relationship?

This is one of the many modalities of interpersonal relationships that human beings exercise throughout life, like the mother-child relationship or teacher-student relationship. The doctor-patient relationship is one that allows the patient to satisfy his or her need for health and the physician to fulfill one of his or her most important functions.

This symbiotic interaction was born in ancient times, together with the practice of medicine, and was practiced by shamans and priests. From the bioethical point of view, the doctor-patient relationship involves a shared responsibility whose main axis is to care for and restore health.

This relationship begins even before the first personal contact. In this sense, the patient usually comes to the consultation with a previous concept about the physician who will attend him or her based on his or her own experiences or those of third parties. This changes in emergency situations, when contact occurs suddenly and unexpectedly.

The characteristics of the doctor-patient relationship

The doctor-patient relationship requires great human rapport and integration of values. Among its main characteristics, the following stand out:

  • Respect
  • Trust
  • Communication
  • Positive interest
  • Professional attitude
  • Empathy and solidarity
  • Consistency and concreteness
physician-patient relationship
Almost all medical specialties involve the need for contact with patients. A fundamental link for health is generated in this contact. 

Types of physician-patient relationships

In general, the doctor-patient relationship is classified by taking into account the degree of activity and participation of the physician in the interaction, as well as that of the patient. In this sense, studies describe the following types:

  • Active-passive relationship: This is the one in which the physician is the decision-maker and assumes responsibility for the treatment. It’s applied in situations in which the patient is unable to take care of him or herself, such as an emergency.
  • Guided cooperation: This is based on the physician’s guidance as an expert and the patient’s active participation in decision-making. This type of relationship applies to acute illnesses, such as infections or trauma.
  • Mutual participation: In this case, the physician attends, supervises, and instructs the patient, who will carry out the treatment himself and will be the one who will assess the priority of medical care. This is the most appropriate form for people with chronic diseases, such as diabetes.

We think you may be interested in reading this, too: 6 Ways to Take Care of Your Body for Physical and Mental Balance

Nine tips to improve the physician-patient relationship

Nowadays, quality communication with patients within the healthcare context is a fundamental pillar. People with an ailment need to be understood and helped. In addition, their level of satisfaction after the consultation conditions the reputation of the health personnel.

A good doctor-patient relationship makes it possible to achieve greater therapeutic attachment as well as better results in the evolution of the disease. After all, a person who has a good relationship with his or her physician is more likely to follow the indications in detail.

1. Active listening

Health professionals face a large number of patients every day, all with different personalities and multiple ways of presenting their ailments. However, their only need is to be listened to and cared for. In this sense, it’s essential to be actively involved with the patient during the consultation.

In most cases, listening to what the patient says provides the information needed to reach an accurate diagnosis. Despite the fact that many people often manifest similar symptoms, if a doctor doesn’t give importance to what they’re trying to express, they won’t feel cared for.

2. Empathy at all times

A quality doctor-patient relationship is one that allows any doubts the patient may have about their illness or the reason for their consultation to be cleared up. In this sense, it’s crucial to place oneself in the patient’s position and be attentive to everything the patient says, as well as to gestures, postural changes, and movements.

3. A calm and welcoming environment

A welcoming and pleasant environment will allow the patient to feel safe and confident to talk about his or her health. Likewise, the physician should offer a friendly, hospitable, and humanistic treatment from the moment the patient is admitted.

Acknowledging the patient and his or her needs and feelings allows for a better connection. In addition, offering a friendly environment breaks down communication barriers that could hinder the treatment plan.

4. Speaking in the patient’s language

It’s common for physicians to use technical terms when trying to explain the patient’s condition. Using this language too much is a serious mistake and could cause confusion.

For this reason, it’s recommended to use more flexible language when addressing patients by using common words to explain the plan in detail. In this way, the doctor-patient relationship will be strengthened.

5. Cordiality and good spirits

Politeness and cordiality are two key factors in all forms of human relations. Even though working hours may be long, maintaining a good attitude makes a big difference in the doctor-patient relationship.

A smile, a polite greeting, and a pleasant manner will improve communication with patients. From a psychological point of view, cordiality and respect generate confidence and a sense of relief.

Like this article? You may also like to read: Most Frequent Reasons Why Teenagers Visit a Doctor

6. A respect for schedules

Punctuality is a characteristic that should stand out in healthcare professionals. Respecting patients’ time and work schedules speaks of a disciplined and committed person. If a medical professional is unable to be on time for an appointment, it’s advisable to rely on an assistant to inform their patients ahead of time.

7. Keep up to date

Good preparation and continuous medical updating provide specialists with great knowledge and expertise. In this sense, it’s advisable to keep abreast of new therapeutic options, disease outbreaks, and drugs launched on the market.

Doctors looking at x-rays
Physicians have the obligation to share with colleagues in order to update themselves and obtain other perspectives in their approach to their patients.

8. Involve technology in healthcare

Today, it’s possible to use technology to actively involve patients in their healthcare. To this end, there are several applications and platforms that can help to improve doctor-patient communication.

The use of these tools allows people to gain greater knowledge about their disease, how to act when faced with different symptoms, and when to seek medical attention. Moreover, they already represent the future of healthcare interaction.

9. Actively educate the community

A physician also plays a very important role in society as an educator. In this sense, specialists should be agents of information about the most common conditions, how to detect them in time, and the main methods of prevention.

The doctor-patient relationship is a fundamental interaction for providing adequate healthcare. The role of the physician as a source of knowledge must be complemented by the active participation of the patient.

These tips can help medical specialists to improve their relationship with patients and achieve a quality approach. Remember that good service and reputation are what truly define and make a difference in any workplace.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Mendoza A. La relación médico paciente: consideraciones bioéticas. Rev. peru. ginecol. obstet. 2017;  63( 4 ): 555-564.
  • Rodríguez Silva H. La relación médico-paciente. Rev Cubana Salud Pública. 2006;  32( 4 ).
  • Mejía Estrada Adriana, Romero Zepeda Hilda. La relación médico paciente: el desarrollo para una nueva cultura médica. Rev.Med.Electrón. 2017;  39( Suppl 1 ): 832-842.
  • Arrubarrena V. La relación médico-paciente. Cirujano General. 2011; 33(2): 122-125.
  • Ibáñez C. La relación médico-paciente (RMP): más allá de la cortesía y de la amabilidad. Revista Médica Clínica Las Condes. 2005; 16(1):30-35.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.