Many of today’s eyecare practitioners may not have the time or awareness to focus on enhancing bedside manner and gaining trust when seeing patients. Despite the challenges with running a busy practice, taking time to guarantee patients feel understood and cared for cannot be overlooked.
Doctors can harness a few mindful techniques to help build trust and form lifelong relationships with patients. Doing so can help spread positive word of mouth and grow the practice while also enhancing doctor-patient relationships.
In this article, we’ll discuss several key ways that eyecare practitioners can go about cultivating bedside manner and gaining patient trust during each office encounter.
Ears are for listening
How many times have patients vented their frustrations with previous eyecare providers simply because they felt rushed or unable to fully voice their complaints with their eyes or vision?
Due to myriad reasons, today’s eyecare providers must see more patients than ever to make ends meet. From decreasing reimbursements and high student loan debt to online competition and increased operating costs (not to mention the Covid-19 pandemic), many offices must see a higher number of patients to survive. While this has many benefits, the doctor-patient relationship may risk compromise when patients feel rushed in these settings.
Despite their busy schedules, clinicians should never forget to put on their listening ears before each patient encounter. While it may sound obvious, being present in the room with the patient in front of you can provide immense value and help build patient trust with you and your office. All too often, clinicians are quick to interject or steer the conversation in another direction when patients may not have fully voiced their concerns.
Expert tip: Wait until the patient is truly finished speaking before you reply. Often, the person may just be pausing but have not finished their thought. Ensure you’re truly listening and not just “waiting to speak”.
Utilize repetition to optimize understanding
"Tell them what you’re going to tell them, tell them, then tell them what you told them." This approach to public speaking also applies to the exam room as well. While at times doctors may not be the best listeners, patients fall into this trap as well. By repeating themselves throughout the exam, clinicians are able to make patients better understand the exam and feel more cared for. Clinicians should try using phrases like, “If I’m understanding correctly (and then repeat the patient’s complaint),” or “Based on symptom X that you’re describing, this is what you’re experiencing . . . ”
Moreover, repetition is especially valuable when it comes to patient education and explaining an ocular finding or disease that needs attention or treatment. Explaining why patients need to come back for additional testing, be referred to a specialist, or start a particular treatment will help them better understand and participate in their healthcare.
Repeating exam findings and/or diagnoses also helps validate patients’ concerns. It helps build patient trust by letting them know that YOU have confidence in them to know their own symptoms and experiences with their eyes and vision. Nothing helps build trust more than when a patient knows they are being respected and feels understood.
Expert tip: Tell the patient what information you are going to be relaying, provide the information in clear terms, and then give them the purpose of the information. Follow up by repeating any questions or concerns they voice during the visit as well as exam findings/diagnosis.
Provide personalized care
Personalizing each patient encounter is important. Regardless of how redundant a routine eye exam can become, clinicians can find ways to have patients engaged and keep the conversation going. From a simple “Happy early/belated birthday” to “How was your recent road trip/cruise/event that we spoke about last time?”, infusing some level of personalization into the exam will go a long way.
For new patients, find out how they spend their time. In addition to discovering daily activities pertaining to the demands on their visual system, learning about patients’ lives can help build rapport and establish relationships. Clinicians can use a line or two in the EHR to document the patient’s profession, hobbies, interests, or upcoming travels. Doing so ensures that when patients return for their next exam, the doctor has talking points to follow up on. Most patients will appreciate this attention to small detail about their lives which they may not receive in other healthcare settings.
Expert tip: Document in the patient’s chart something unique to them that you discussed at that visit. Patients will be amazed that you remembered and will feel like their doctor really knows them.
Keep your word
Nothing can build trust faster than keeping your word. The reverse is also true; nothing can break trust easier than not staying true to your word. If you tell a patient they’re going to get a referral or that you’ll call them to follow up on symptoms, follow through. Patients may be pleasantly surprised when you act out what you said you would. Just because the bar may be set low by other healthcare providers, we should still follow the golden rule of treating others how we wish to be treated.
Many times something you say in your exam room may actually be acted on by one of your staff members, so make sure everyone is on the same page. You can affirm this by using a tasking system within your EHR. Walk the patient to the optical, and then reiterating for your optician what you and the patient discussed or even have a designated point person in your office to follow up on these types of tasks.
Some of the worst experiences in healthcare are due to doctors and/or office staff not appropriately following up with patient referrals or paperwork. Whether it’s submitting a routine referral for cataract surgery or faxing specific documents related to an insurance reimbursement/dispute, ALL office staff should be trained and proactive about performing these tasks.
The majority of patients are not going to have the knowledge, ability, or experience to perform these tasks themselves; they rely on you and your staff to help them navigate the healthcare system.
Expert tip: Train your staff carefully so everyone is on the same page with follow-through expectations pertaining to the various aspects of your office and the types of patients you see.
Despite the high demands of running a busy practice, eyecare providers cannot overlook the importance of ensuring patients feel understood and cared for. This is crucial for building successful doctor-patient relationships. Remember, it is the goal of your entire office to build this rapport with the patients, therefore, training staff to be on the same page is essential. Make visits to your office memorable, more enjoyable experiences for patients through these strategies to improve bedside manner and build better relationships.