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Give the People What They Want: 10 Things Patients Say They Want From Their Doctors

What do patients really want from their physician?

A new series of Market Insights questions, rolled out last year, focused on consumer selection factors for various types of care, including primary care providers. The number one thing people told us they want in a doctor—the factor that beats out reputation, personality, and even providing high quality care—is “a doctor that listens to me.” …But what do patients really mean by this?

How can care providers connect with patients and show that they are listening? What do patients want from their doctor? Through Research Bureau—a custom research solution from National Research—we were able to get some answers by asking 1,231 patients the following essay question:

“What do you think are the most important aspects of communicating with a doctor during an appointment?”

From their responses, ten themes became clear:

  1. Ask them questions

    Patients want their doctor to be engaged in the appointment—to demonstrate interest in gathering all the facts and truly understanding the issue at hand. Physicians do this by asking the patient for clarification on what they’ve shared, and digging deeper to uncover additional information.

  2. The customer is always right

    Patients have a huge amount of information at their fingertips these days, and they are most familiar with their own bodies – they know when something’s not right and in many cases, they’ve already conducted their own research. Patients want doctors to respect that and avoid creating a feeling that they are put off by or dismissive of the patient’s intuition, knowledge, and opinion.

  3. Speak their language

    Physicians need to describe things in a way patients can understand, and they need to keep doing so until they’re certain the patient comprehends the information. This means explaining with clarity and empathy – not in medical jargon.

  4. Look them in the eye

    In today’s healthcare settings, doctors are often listening to a patient and taking notes on a computer or tablet at the same time. Patients understand the need for good record-keeping, but they also want to feel heard and valued – and they’re cognizant of the decline in face-to-face communication Eye contact goes a long way with establishing that connection in the exam room, so physicians should make a conscious effort to increase the time they spend looking the patient in the eye.

  5. Be a partner

    The patient is the ultimate decision-maker when it comes to healthcare decisions, and they expect to feel a sense of mutual respect from their doctor—their partner in healthcare. They want to feel like their health concerns are a concern for their physician as well and like they are coming to conclusions about treatment with their doctor.

  6. Take your time

    Patients do not want to feel rushed through their appointment. In fact, one expressed this as “being treated like a person, not a timeslot.” While cutting back on scheduling may not be an option for everyone, doctors can address the issue with calm, clear communication. Asking if the patient has any more questions or concerns—and truly waiting for the answer—before concluding the appointment is another good strategy.

  7. Do your homework

    When the doctor finally arrives in the exam room, the last thing a patient wants to do is spend precious time repeating information they’ve already provided. Instead, they want to discuss the issue at hand. Physicians should acquaint themselves with the patient’s history and dig into the current problem.

  8. Give options

    Physicians can further act as partners by educating patients about their treatment options, including ones that don’t necessarily involve medications. Patients want to be armed with options, and they expect to have each option thoroughly explained before making a decision.

  9. Personalize it

    Patients resent being lumped into broad categories based on age, weight, or other factors that apply to general populations. Though those matters may be important to the ultimate diagnosis, patients want their doctor to demonstrate that they’re hearing them out before jumping to conclusions.

  10. Pass it on

    Patients don’t expect a single doctor to be able to fix everything. They do expect to be referred to a specialist if necessary, however. They want their physician’s involvement in choosing these additional care partners.

Of course, every doctor-patient relationship is different. But the themes coming out of our research make it clear that simple behaviors can make a huge difference to the patient. Follow through on these ten patient “mandates,” adjusting as necessary to accommodate the preferences of individuals, and your organization will be well on the way to a greatly improved patient experience.

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