There’s nothing quite like the complex relationship between doctors and their patients.
At its most basic, the doctor-patient relationship definition refers to the communication style between caregiver and care-receiver. It also involves assessing how doctors make healthcare-related choices with their patients and the effectiveness of their communication styles.
As a medical patient, what kind of reaction do you expect from your family physician when you walk into a healthcare office? How do you want them to treat you as they address your concerns about your medical care?
As a doctor, how do you put your patients at ease? Is it through your easy-going, friendly nature? Do you value your capacity for empathy or your ability to take charge in a challenging situation like a pandemic?
But what are the core principles of the doctor-patient relationship and what are the communication styles from which you can choose? Read on to learn more.
The importance of doctor-patient relationships
A lack of rapport in the physician-patient dynamic can lead to miscommunication. And we’re not talking about those minor, easily fixable miscommunications, either (aka that time your co-worker “accidentally” ate the lunch waiting for you in the staff fridge).
We’re talking about a much bigger kind of miscommunication. A disagreement can derail or destroy a patient’s confidence in the healthcare system altogether and negatively affect their quality of life.
There’s no denying that patients living with chronic illnesses need and deserve to be treated with compassion. However, on the clinician’s side, you’re in a position of relative power and doctor-patient relationship ethics hold you to higher standards. If you fail those standards, even unintentionally, it can mean a world of harm.
Beyond the general care you’re required to give to your patients, having a solid relationship simply makes sense. It improves patient satisfaction and cuts back on people searching for other care providers. There’s less chance of a financial mix-up, too.
Overall, the doctor-patient relationship is simply another aspect of preventative healthcare.
Doctor-patient relationship principles
All types of doctor-patient relationships involve several core principles:
Effective communication between physicians and patients
This is a broader term that refers to how well a patient and their healthcare providers work together.
More specifically, it can trickle down to a doctor’s gentle, pleasant tone of voice or how a doctor dresses to promote feelings of calmness or reassurance. It can mean the method of communication, such as telehealth versus in-person appointments, or how the two parties mitigate disagreements.
Keep in mind that consent is king with this sort of informed decision-making. A patient’s autonomy is crucial, and they usually have some degree of control over any plans that concern their health. Notable exceptions can occur in psychiatry or when you need to implement public health measures.
Most physicians learn this in medical school, but just to drive it home: Even if you’re the most technically skilled doctor in the world, your advice will mean nothing if you come off as cold, dismissive or downright cruel to your patients. Lacking empathy can make you less likely to properly understand or diagnose a patient’s health.
Patient trust in a doctor
An effective treatment plan will turn into a practical disaster if your patient doesn’t trust you. Amiable communication skills and empathy play a large part in building this rapport. That trust makes a patient more likely to stick with a treatment plan once it’s started.
Different doctor-patient relationship models
We all have unique flair for handling things. Your personality and interpersonal skills are a big part of what makes you well. As a medical professional, a winning personality can make you memorable and add extra incentive to keep patients in their best spirits. It’s essential to keep your personality in mind when choosing a model for doctor-patient care.
Consider: Which method suits you best? How does your personality affect that method? More importantly, which doctor-patient model—or models—does your client prefer?
In this model, consent and mutual respect are everything. Instead of a top-down approach to healthcare, you’ll treat your patient as a friend.
If you know each other well enough, maybe you’ll start your conversation by asking each other how your weeks have been; perhaps you’ll talk about the latest movie playing in theaters or how you’re currently shopping for new scrubs.
When you explain treatment options for them, all final decisions rest with the patient. Once again, it’s vital that the patient feels empathized with and respected.
Although treatment should prioritize a patient’s health over a polished, consumer-friendly edge, this style of doctor-patient relationship does lean into it. Here, the goal is to provide the patient with as much information as possible to pick and choose which kind of treatment they’d like to go with. It’s a bit like shopping for high-end clothing in a boutique.
Interpretive relationships allow doctors to figure out what’s wrong with their patients by asking them questions about their healthcare status and personal values. They’ll then offer treatment plans that align with both factors.
This method is a top-down, autocratic approach. A paternalistic approach gives the patient a limited say in their treatment plan. The doctor simply assesses what is wrong and the patient complies. Although this method involves a lack of consent, it has its place—mainly in emergencies, where one decision can mean life or death.
The results of a successful doctor-patient relationship
In creating a successful relationship with your patients, you’ll have a treatment plan better suited for their specific needs. Clear communication prevents mistakes from happening from the get-go. Because the patient is more likely to trust your judgment, they’re more likely to adhere to your treatment plan.
Additional benefits include greater patient loyalty and less financial or psychological strain on the patient. Overall, this holistic healthcare approach leaves all parties satisfied with the treatment at hand, and you can learn this when you’re in med school(you know, when you’re trying to balance your studies with hunting for student discounts).
At Jaanuu, we believe in a tailored doctor-patient dynamic and hope it inspires all healthcare professionals. On the flip side, if you’re a patient and are pleased with your care, you may be motivated enough to buy that doctor a gift to say thanks.