Meeting new patients is always a challenge. Physical and occupational therapists have the uneasy task of breaking the ice. More often than not, building rapport is overlooked by healthcare providers as an essential part of the patient experience. Other patients are waiting and there’s only so much time one can provide. And yet, breaking the ice is a crucial component in the patient’s wellness because it promotes effective communication. Treating the patient as a unique individual with unique needs go a long way to achieve patient care and satisfaction.
Here are some tips to build rapport with new patients:
Look patients in the eye
Patients are humans after all and they crave recognition. Make eye contact as if to say, “You have my full and undivided attention. As a rule, eye contact is a good thing. However, do be sensitive to cultural differences in patients. For some non-western cultures, eye-to-eye connection might be misconstrued as impolite or an invasion of one’s personal space.
Listen and pay attention
Most people are great at feigning listening but it takes special care to actually hear what someone has to say. Great therapists know that the key to an accurate and successful diagnosis is listening to what the patient has to say. More importantly, listening and paying attention (don’t forget that last part) helps a therapist identify a patient’s needs and helps set realistic expectations and goals. Let the patient tell their story using their own words. This will make them feel validated and trust you more. The more trust you earn, the more open they become.
Gain Insight into their lives
While conversing with your patient, try to focus the conversation on the patient and not on your own experiences. Ask questions based on things that interest your patient and then connect what you learn from them to your clinical interview. You can pepper the conversation with things from your life but be sure to always bring back the focus on them. For instance, you can relate your love for traveling with theirs.
Learn to read body language
Be sure to look at your patient’s body language in order to tell whether or not they’re anxious or frustrated or being honest. A smile may mean joy but it can also mean that the patient is embarrassed or that they might disagree with you but are being polite about it. While you’re paying attention to your patient’s body language, be sure that you’re communicating properly with yours. Are you folding your arms while your patient talks or scratching your nose? These gestures are negative signals that could be read by the patient as you’re being impatient or (with the nose-scratching) that you think the patient has an unpleasant odor.
Finally, don’t forget to smile. No matter how bad your day is turning out to be, there’s no reason not to smile at your patient. Smiling conveys an openness and friendliness that are contagious. The more you smile, the more your patient will smile back.