Partners in Health: Building a Strong Patient-Provider Relationship

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In my mind, one of the most important aspects of patient care is building a strong patient-provider relationship. I find that treatment outcomes truly depend on the patient being able to trust the provider and the provider truly listening to the patient. For many patients, seeking treatment can be intimidating and produce fear—of the unknown, of what the diagnosis could be, etc! This fear can lead to patients feeling a need to hold back thoughts or beliefs and can ultimately create barriers in treatment which leads to frustration by both the provider and the patient. Providers, on the other hand, can often contribute to fear or stall progress without intending to by not individualizing treatment and partnering with patients.

So—this post is for all of us! These are a few of my thoughts—both advice for the patient and for the provider on how to better build a partnership in healthcare. But more importantly, I want to hear from you. So, read on, and comment at the end so we can all learn to work together better and improve the way we deliver and receive healthcare.

For the patient:

  1. Remember that you have control: I have had several instances where a patient will say “yes” to a prescribed medication or will feel pressured into having a surgery that he or she really did not feel comfortable in having. If a physician, PT or other healthcare provider recommends a treatment that you are uncomfortable with, don’t be afraid to speak up and say so! Remember that we as providers want to help you get better as quickly as we can. If you are unhappy with the treatment plan, that won’t happen!
  2. Don’t be afraid to speak up: Many times, we as providers forget that not everyone has the same background knowledge we do when it comes to the human body. If you are being told something you don’t fully understand, speak up! I always thank my patients when they ask me questions because helping you understand and feel understood is such a key piece of my practice. Often times, those questions help me personalize treatment approaches and often I find we end up in a better place by those conversations we have. Along with that, don’t be afraid to question the treatment approach your PT/provider is recommending. Did you read a blog or article which recommended something different? Did your friend hear of a new treatment approach? Share those thoughts and ideas! I love to have those conversations with my patients because often times there are specific reasons why I recommended what I did and having that conversation helps both of us to be on the same TEAM. Occasionally patients may suggest new treatment approaches I am not as familiar with—and that’s great! That gives me an opportunity to learn and work together with my patient to determine how we should proceed.
  3. Make sure your goals are being addressed: If your goal is to be able to walk around the house, make sure your provider knows that! Sometimes there can be a mis-match between what your provider thinks your goal is and what your goal actually So, speak up! Let us know what you hope to get back to so we can work together to help you move!
  4. Be open to new ideas: When it comes down to it, we (the providers) do genuinely care about you and want you to get better as quickly as you can! Sometimes your provider may suggest something that seems “weird” or “unconventional,” but listen to what they have to say! I have had many patients who initially were hesitant about a treatment I recommended then later were SO glad they chose to give it a try!

For the provider:

  1. Listen to your patient!: When I was in PT school, I remember having a professor say to me, “If you listen to the patient, they will tell you what is wrong with them!” Seems so simple, but often our minds jump to immediately categorizing the patient and planning ahead to our next steps. So, let’s all stop, take a breath, and give our patients a chance to tell us what they need to tell us.
  2. There is no “I” in TEAM: To truly help a patient achieve optimal results, we have to partner with our patients and develop a treatment plan that is unique to them and their goals and values. For example, if I think my patient would benefit from doing a yoga/pilates routine but my patient hates that type of exercise, our plan is ultimately not going to be successful. However, that patient may love to swim and lift weights, so we could develop a program that might achieve the same goal in a method the patient will enjoy.
  3. Don’t be afraid of “not knowing”: Sometimes we become anxious if we do not know the answer to a question a patient asks or if we reach a point where we are not really sure how to proceed to help the patient achieve the results that patient is hoping for. I am often shocked how admitting I do not know but will work to learn actually builds a stronger patient relationship! Trust is not only in being able to help, but also in knowing when you need to seek answers from elsewhere. So, be vulnerable. Admit you do not know. Seek additional consultations or refer out if you need to! In the end, the patient is the one who will benefit from your humility.
  4. Watch your language!: No, I do not mean avoid cursing with your patients (that’s a no-brainer!), but be careful with what you say and how you explain things. My sister went to physical therapy and was told, “Your rib on one side is ‘out of place’.” She totally freaked out—not knowing what that meant, she worried something was structurally wrong with her body. She was scared, and guess what? Her pain actually got worse that week. Recent studies have shown that our words do not always mean the same thing to us as they mean to our patients. Check out this awesome blog post by Matthew Low which summarizes several studies on the subject. Pay attention to what you say and make sure your words promote healing and health—not fear!

Let’s partner together and work toward better health! These are just my thoughts…. So, what do you think?

Patients- What would you like your health care providers to know to better help you in your recovery? Have you had any bad experiences with providers you would like us to learn from?

Providers- What would you like patients to know when coming to see you? What can we all do to work together better?

Cheers!

~ Jessica

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2 responses to “Partners in Health: Building a Strong Patient-Provider Relationship

  1. This is a great post and such an important point. I think we as patients in this society have a tendency to put too much trust and responsibility on our health care providers. We need to realize our own role that we play and not undervalue the importance of having a good relationship with our doctor or physical therapist. I have shared some of my thoughts on the subject in this blog post called Being comfortable with your doctor.

    Thank you for creating this website to help others and thank you for all that you do as a physical therapist!

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  2. Sarah- Thanks for sharing your post– sounds like you and I are on the same page about these things! It’s amazing what a good relationship can do to help a patient get better faster. Your story of the first doctor you worked with is one I hear way more often than I would like. I think intimidation or a fear of “looking stupid” can often lead people to not say something or ask a question that they really need to say! I’m glad you ended up finding professionals who were willing to partner with you and work together for your recovery! Thank you for sharing your story on your blog- it makes a huge differences for others going through similar things!! ~ Jessica

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