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Building a bond with your patient: How to do it and why it's a must

April 3, 2023
Your success as a professional depends on building quick trust with new patients. Learn the number one way to win patients’ trust and keep your business going strong.

It's Valentine’s Day. You and your spouse picked a nice (and expensive) restaurant to celebrate. You wait 15 minutes for the waiter to come to your table, and when he arrives, he acts in a robotic manner. He doesn’t give you a kind greeting, he doesn’t show an ounce of warmth, and he doesn’t go out of his way to make you feel like he cares about either of you. How does that make you feel?

When a patient visits your office, they’re coming for a specific purpose. Maybe it is a routine checkup or procedure, or maybe the matter is far more serious. Yes, they want you to solve their medical or dental problem, but they also want their doctor or dentist to develop a certain level of personal relationship with them. This is where many professionals fall short.

Why a personal bond is so essential

In today’s world, patients have a multitude of choices for their medical or dental care. Even if you have world-class technical skills, you’re going to lose patients to professionals who have mastered the skill of making patients personally comfortable fast.

The stakes of visiting you are far more important than a Valentine’s Day dinner, and today’s patients have little tolerance for physicians or dental specialists who make zero effort to find out about them as a human being. I’m not suggesting that you become a schmoozer or chatterbox, but you need to not treat a patient as someone who is solely a human procedure candidate.

You might also be interested in: How high-performance dental teams communicate

How personal should you get, and for how long?

You don’t need to ask about their family, or their favorite sports team or TV show, until or unless they are long-standing patients. But superficial icebreakers are almost as bad as showing no interest in a new patient.

Show a personal interest by asking in a general manner about how they’re feeling, what they perceive as their specific problem, and how they think you can help them. Then say nothing and let them speak for a professionally realistic time period.

Trust builds when you let the client feel they can open up to a new professional. I realize that time is money and many physicians and dental specialists have targets of how many patients they want to see in a day, but nothing is more important to building a practice than making patients feel they are not on an assembly line for the doctor’s benefit. So, the number one thing you can do is ask them open-ended questions about themselves and their issue, and let them speak uninterrupted.

Be empathetic

It’s also crucial to show empathy, which you can do in several ways.

First, acknowledge their health problem and their feelings. You would be surprised how many health providers say nothing to the patient after they describe their concerns and jump right into diagnostic questions.

Second, through nonverbal cues, acknowledge them and their concerns. Head nodding, a soothing voice, and not interrupting all demonstrate strong empathy.

Third, try to assess their personality and adapt your interactions to who they are. A patient who is nervous and unwilling to volunteer information needs to be addressed differently than a patient who is willing to volunteer even unrelated information.

Fourth, and perhaps most important, convey both in word and action that you are partners with the patient and collaborators in helping them solve their health problems.

Assume they assume you are qualified

Almost all professionals feel the need to show a new patient that they’re highly qualified to work on their problem. There is a simple response to this type of behavior: Don’t do it. Except in the rarest of cases, the patient has already assumed that you can actually perform the work or procedure being discussed and probably assume you can do it at least reasonably well.

When you’re meeting a patient for the first time, start the meeting by letting them describe their issue, mindset, and concerns. Only once that happens should you start your diagnostic questioning, and even then, you should frequently ask if the patient has any questions. Your questions should be designed to diagnose and not show how smart you are. Professionals who try to impress patients with their skill set run a huge risk of turning off those patients. Meet the patients on their level and they will equate your skill with your interest in them on a human level.

Remember: It’s all about them

You have a huge knowledge base in terms of how to help patients, and you also have the experience. The most successful professionals understand that knowledge without human connection is like a high-concept movie with a star but no compelling story. The movie needs both a star and a story.

You need first-class technical skills as well as first-class personal bonding skills to help your patients get to optimal health. The professional who conveys strong outward centricity to his or her patients will always reach their goal.