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Connecting with patients

Dr Michael Wright, MBBS, MSc, PhD, FRACGP, GAICD, General Practitioner and Chief Medical Officer, Avant

Tuesday, 4 July 2023

Connecting with patients

I usually find consultations with patients easier after I have seen them a couple of times. At this point, I can usually provide care that better meets a patient’s needs as well as understanding their expectations of care. But building the therapeutic doctor-patient relationship begins with the first consultation.

A strong relationship is a central benefit to continuity of care – one of the core features of high-quality healthcare – and particularly relevant to long-term care (such as occurs in general practice). Knowing how to communicate and connect with patients is important for all doctors, not only GPs. Establishing an open, trusting relationship starts from the first interaction and develops as perspectives and goals change.

Having a good connection with patients can improve health outcomes, patient satisfaction and compliance, as well as reduce the chance of complaints. This can be done simply by using some core elements of patient rapport building.

Treat patients with respect

Respect each patient as an individual and talk to them as an equal, even though they come to you for your medical expertise. Sometimes a patient will make a decision you don’t agree with or they choose not to follow your advice. You can accept your patient’s decision without agreeing with it, and by showing you understand their thoughts and feelings, you maintain their trust.

Show empathy

Understand and be sensitive to the feelings or experiences patients share with you. Actively listening and repeating what you’ve heard shows you understand, and helps patients feel you genuinely care about them.

Avoid rushing the patient

Time can be a challenge, especially if consultation or procedure schedules are delayed. No matter how busy you are, always show patients you have time to listen to them and give them your full attention.

Involve the patient in their care

Most patients want a say in their healthcare, so have them participate in decisions about treatment options, goals or outcomes. Use laypersons’ terms and ask questions, to help you understand the patient’s expectations. Encourage them to ask questions.

Personalise the consultation

While you want to maintain professional boundaries, friendliness and courtesy help build rapport and trust. Try to find some common ground, too.

Follow up and follow through

If you tell a patient you’ll do something after your consultation, follow through and do it. Have a procedure in place for advising patients about how you’ll manage any delays.

The ability to build good rapport and to communicate effectively can often be viewed as 'soft skills', but they are an essential in modern medicine. Our data shows four in 10 claims and complaints had a communication-related issue. While the content of what was said was the most common communication issue, the manner of the communication – the way it was said – was reported in nearly half of the complaints in which communication issues were raised.

A recent survey of Avant members about issues relating to patient communication identified several concerns common across specialties. Managing expectations and saying “no” to inappropriate requests were the biggest concerns.

What are members most concerned about when communicating with patients?



Avant factsheet: Doctor-patient communication.

This article was originally published in Connect  issue 20.


This publication is not comprehensive and does not constitute legal or medical advice. You should seek legal or other professional advice before relying on any content, and practise proper clinical decision making with regard to the individual circumstances. Persons implementing any recommendations contained in this publication must exercise their own independent skill or judgement or seek appropriate professional advice relevant to their own particular practice. Compliance with any recommendations will not in any way guarantee discharge of the duty of care owed to patients and others coming into contact with the health professional or practice. Avant is not responsible to you or anyone else for any loss suffered in connection with the use of this information. Information is only current at the date initially published.

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