3 Minute Guide to Building Trust with Patients

As a clinician, the relationship you build with your patients is one that has much farther reach than a one off experience.

And the ripple effect of how you handle that relationship can shape your entire practice and career.

Shaping the Patient Experience

I have listened to thousands of patients give me feedback about their experience. Patients are in a state of heightened anxiety when in your office.

Common patient flow practices usually contribute to that.
Consider the common experience:

  1. The patient arrives under physical and/or mental distress and anxiety already.
  2. They start out waiting in one room..then waiting in another isolated room.
  3. The Medical Assistant arrives and takes vitals and health history.
  4. Their blood pressure goes up and they wait a little more.
  5. Then finally you arrive.

At that point there is so much anticipation built up that many forget all the questions they had. They don’t absorb your recommendations fully and forget simple advice.

This then often results in calls back to the office to clarify some instruction they were given or a prescription detail.

How to Apply Active Listening and Read Non-Verbal Cues

On a busy day you are rushing from room to room and often your mind is whirling. Active listening is about being present with that patient so you can hear what they are saying to you.

To be present you have to accept that as a doctor you are human and you have emotions too and it’s not your job to hide them.

It is also not your job to transfer them to your patient.

Once you are centered and present you will be ready to gauge the emotional level of the patient.

Watch for non-verbal cues. Here are a few signals of high anxiety:

  1. Rubbing thighs with hands
  2. Excessive fidgeting
  3. Excessive sweating

How to Build Comfort and Trust in 3 minutes

The first three minutes of your patient encounter is all you need to create a strong connection.

One common method is to apply a “soothing touch” for 1-3 seconds. An example would be lightly touching the patients elbow or back of their hand for less than 3 seconds. Do this in a natural way while talking to the patient.

Here are the steps to follow with every encounter:

  1. Review the notes briefly to know why the patient is there before you walk in the room.
  2. Listen carefully to words, tone of voice, and body language of your patient.
  3. Look behind their words for the story they are trying to tell you.
  4. Repeat back to them the problem as you understand it using their own words and phrases.
  5. Execute a soothing touch before you do any physical examination.
  6. Clarify what the next steps are simply and clearly.

The Benefits of Strong Rapport Building

What you are doing in this three minute period is building rapport with the patient in a powerful way. If you accomplish this well the patient will:

  1. Give you a more complete and accurate description of their problem.
  2. Be more receptive to your assessment and plan.
  3. Retain more of your instructions after they leave.
  4. Feel you have spent “quality” time with them.

You should use a system to survey patient experience so that you can continually improve this process.


Till next time,


About The Author

James Riviezzo

Over the past decade, I have served over 50,000 (mostly) satisfied patients. I have tracked measured and documented what makes a successful practice inside (and outside) the third party payer and oversight system of medicine.