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Insights for those starting, managing, and growing independent healthcare practices

What makes a good doctor-patient relationship? 7 strategies to improve patient retention

Learn 7 key strategies you can use in your practice to build a strong doctor-patient relationship — and keep patients coming back.

Physician interacts with patient during appointment, building a strong doctor-patient relationship

At a Glance

  • Strong doctor-patient relationships are crucial for patient retention and lead to better health outcomes.
  • Active listening, empathy, compassion, transparent billing, and efficient scheduling are key strategies for building trust and fostering patient satisfaction.
  • Providers should make the most of time spent with patients through personalized education, shared decision-making, and open-ended questions.
  • Long patient wait times can negatively impact the doctor-patient relationship. Practices should optimize scheduling, utilize appointment reminders, and prioritize urgent cases to reduce wait times.

There’s no denying that doctor-patient relationships play a pivotal role in patient retention — especially in today’s competitive healthcare landscape. In a recent survey, Tebra found that when a situation turns sour, it doesn’t take much for patients to look elsewhere: bad experiences run deep. With providers, that can be failure to diagnose, treatment failures, complications, or even clinical mistakes.

But those bad experiences aren’t just limited to a one-time poor experience with a provider. Anything from having a long wait time to issues with billing to slow response time can be cause enough for someone to switch. And the bad news? Almost 50% of survey respondents said they’d only give their providers 2 chances before switching. 

The good news? You can do something about it. Building a strong connection with patients is not only crucial for their health but also for the success of your practice.  

We’ll explore the 7 key strategies that can help you foster stronger doctor-patient relationships. These strategies are not only essential for relationship-building and patient retention but also have a profound impact on the overall quality of healthcare — keeping your patients happy.

Patient Perspectives Report

Why is the doctor-patient relationship important?

Tebra recently surveyed 1,000 patients and 100 healthcare providers, exploring the importance of the doctor-patient relationship. The results revealed that a whopping 87% of patients believed that a strong relationship with their doctor had a positive impact on their healthcare experience.

A whopping 87% of patients surveyed believed that a strong relationship with their doctor had a positive impact on their healthcare experience. ”

When vulnerability and uncertainty are in the mix, a good primary care doctor-patient relationship acts as a safety net for patients. Patients can face difficult health challenges, but the presence of a caring and empathetic healthcare provider goes a long way to ensuring they receive the emotional support and reassurance they need.

The survey found what we always knew to be true: a strong doctor-patient relationship goes above and beyond the clinical. Healthcare should never merely be a transaction but rather a partnership dedicated to the health and well-being of the patient. 

How do strong patient-provider relationships drive healthier outcomes?

Having a good doctor-patient relationship means that there is an established trust. It means that there is open communication. It also means mutual understanding and respect, which leads to patient happiness. 

But how does the doctor-patient relationship improve your health? Because patients who feel heard and valued are much more likely to divulge information needed for an accurate diagnosis. They’re also more willing to adhere to a treatment plan — and book follow-up appointments, which lead to healthier outcomes. In other words, you’re much more likely to retain those patients.

7 key strategies to help you build stronger doctor-patient relationships (and keep your patients happy)

So, what are the signs of a good doctor-patient relationship? Tebra's healthcare provider survey, summarizing patient experience data, highlighted that healthcare providers who implemented these techniques experienced a 15% increase in patient satisfaction and retention.

1. Active communication: Engage in two-way conversations and actively listen to patients' concerns

Effective healthcare communication is a two-way street. It's not just about delivering information; it's about engaging in dialogue. Active communication involves: 

  • listening to patients with intent, 
  • understanding the patient's perspective, and 
  • responding in a way that validates their concerns and answers patient questions. 

When you actively listen, you create a safe space for patients to express their thoughts, fostering trust and cooperation.

2. Empathy and compassion: Show genuine care and understanding toward patients' emotional and physical well-being

Empathy and compassion are at the heart of the doctor-patient relationship. Clinical relationships should be, well, more than just clinical. 

Empathy and compassion are at the heart of the doctor-patient relationship. ”

Beyond the medical diagnosis, it's essential to acknowledge and address the emotional aspects of a patient's well-being. By showing genuine care and understanding, you not only provide medical care but also emotional support, creating a bond that goes beyond the clinic's walls.

3. Transparent billing: Ensure your billing process is clear and free of hidden costs

Transparent billing is critical to building trust with your patients. Patients often feel anxiety and frustration when it comes to healthcare costs. By providing clear, honest, and transparent billing information, you eliminate surprises and confusion. Patients appreciate knowing what to expect and will have greater confidence in your practice.

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4. Efficient scheduling: Minimize patient wait times and offer flexible appointment options

Efficient scheduling respects your patients' time. Offering flexible appointment options, including online scheduling and same-day and emergency appointments, allows patients to take control of their healthcare — which is particularly important for those with busy schedules. 

Minimizing wait times demonstrates that you understand their busy lives and that you prioritize their convenience. Of course, some things are out of your control; if you’re running late, keeping patients up-to-date and thanking them for their patience can go a long way. 

5. Digital touchpoints: Utilize patient portals, text messaging, and online scheduling to enhance communication and accessibility

In the digital age, leveraging technology is crucial for maintaining strong doctor-patient relationships. Patient portals, text messaging, and online scheduling provide channels for easy communication and accessibility. 

Patient portals, text messaging, and online scheduling provide channels for easy communication and accessibility. ”

Offering digital kiosks for patient-friendly check-ins or a way for patients to scan their driver’s license and insurance card are ways to utilize technology to provide a better patient experience.

These tools empower patients to reach out, schedule appointments, and access their health information conveniently. It also signals that your practice is keeping pace with modern healthcare expectations.

6. Personalized care: Tailor your care to meet individual patient needs and preferences

Every patient is unique, and recognizing and respecting those differences is key to providing exceptional care. Personalized care involves understanding each patient's medical history, preferences, and values. Tailoring your care to meet their specific needs fosters a sense of being seen and heard, which is important in a strong patient-provider relationship.

7. Follow-up care: After visits, ensure ongoing care and follow-up, especially for chronic conditions

Follow-up care demonstrates your commitment to patients' long-term well-being. Whether it's after a routine check-up, managing chronic conditions, a phone call after surgery, or doing post-visit surveys, taking the initiative to follow up shows that you're invested in their health journey. It provides reassurance and supports continuity of care, which is vital for patient retention and better health outcomes.

These 7 strategies will help you retain your patients and deepen your relationship with them. Now, let’s go even deeper into some aspects of the doctor-patient relationship.

Making the most of time spent with your patients

Every moment spent with a patient is precious. Ensuring that your patients leave your office feeling valued, heard, and committed to their healthcare journey is the ultimate goal.

Here are 3 ways you can make the most of your time with your patients:

1. Personalized patient education

Allocate time to educate patients about their health conditions, treatment options, and preventive measures. Informing them of what other patients have done in similar situations can provide reassurance and reduce anxiety, letting them know that their circumstances are not unusual. Informed patients are more likely to actively participate in their care.

Allocate time to educate patients about their health conditions, treatment options, and preventive measures. ”

2. Shared decision-making

Involve patients in the decision-making process. Discuss treatment options, potential risks, and benefits, and consider their preferences and values — considering work, family, and school responsibilities — when making healthcare decisions.

3. Active listening and open-ended questions

Active listening not only provides a better diagnosis but also demonstrates empathy and respect, key elements of patient-centered care. Open-ended questions allow for a more in-depth conversation and help providers gain a comprehensive understanding of the patient's condition.

We want to take some time and dive even deeper into this last point because, with good active listening skills and open-ended questions, each interaction can increase patient retention — when done right.

The importance of active listening in healthcare

Even the American Association for Physician Leadership says that active listening is a fundamental part of effective communication. Above and beyond just the exchange of medical information, active listening plays a large role in making sure that patients receive the best possible care. They need to feel heard, valued, and respected. 

Active listening in healthcare isn’t just a skill; it's an integral part of being a compassionate and patient-centered provider. It also deepens the doctor-patient connection, keeping patients coming back for more.

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5 questions for stronger personalized patient communications

In order to get to a place where you can actively listen, it’s vital to ask the right questions. These 5 questions will help you not only actively listen but also show compassion and foster a strong doctor-patient relationship:

Question 1: How are you feeling today, and is there anything specific you'd like to discuss?

This question shows your genuine concern for the patient's well-being and opens the door for them to express their concerns and preferences for their appointment. 

Question 2: Can you share any changes or concerns you've noticed about your health or symptoms since our last visit?

By asking about any changes or concerns, you’re both showing that you value their input and are actively listening to their experiences, as well as demonstrating that you’re cross-referencing previous notes from past appointments.

Question 3: Is there anything about your treatment plan or medications that you find challenging or have questions about?

This question encourages open communication and allows patients to express any concerns they may have about their treatment. It shows that you're attentive to their needs and ready to make changes to the treatment plan should they need it.

Question 4: How can I assist you in achieving your health goals? What steps do you think would work best for you?

Demonstrating a willingness to tailor their care to their needs and preferences empowers the patient to take an active role in their health, reinforcing trust and engagement. Plus, they may just offer an insight you hadn’t thought of before.

Question 5: What other aspects of your health and well-being are important to you? How can we address them together?

By exploring the broader aspects of their health and well-being, you show a holistic approach to their care, reinforcing that their overall health matters. This can also encourage a longer game plan for their well-being and return visits.

These questions go beyond the clinical aspects of care and show that you care about the patient as an individual. They also help build trust, encourage open communication, and build a strong doctor-patient relationship, which is crucial for retention and overall outcomes.

Patient wait times: How to improve them and ways to reduce them

Wait times are climbing for patients. Forbes found that “The average wait time for an OB/GYN appointment in the 15 cities surveyed is 31.4 days, up 19% from 26.4 days in 2017.”

Long wait times at healthcare facilities, beyond being an inconvenience, can lead to frustration, stress, and a sense of disrespect, all of which can break down the trust and satisfaction patients have with their healthcare providers.

A crowded and chaotic waiting room can set the stage for a negative healthcare experience. ”

A crowded and chaotic waiting room can set the stage for a negative healthcare experience. Patients may interpret long wait times as a reflection of the provider's lack of concern for their time and well-being. This initial impression can color the entire healthcare encounter, making it imperative for practices to invest in efficient scheduling and management of patient flow.

Here are 3 ways to reduce patient wait times:

1. Optimize scheduling

Ensure that appointments are spaced out appropriately, and consider the type of visit and the expected duration. Use scheduling software that allows for accurate appointment booking.

2. Implement a reminder system 

Send appointment reminders to patients, giving them the option to choose which channel works best for them: text messages or emails. This reduces no-shows and helps maintain a steady flow of patients.

3. Prioritize urgent cases 

Identify and prioritize patients with urgent or critical healthcare needs. Ensure they’re seen promptly, even if it means adjusting the schedule for other patients.

By embracing these strategies to reduce patient waiting times, healthcare practices can prove their commitment to patient-centered care. 

A good doctor-patient relationship + optimized patient experience = improved patient retention

What it all boils down to is that if you want to keep your patients, it’s essential to provide a personalized patient experience. By prioritizing the primary care doctor-patient relationship, you’re not only providing excellent care but also ensuring that your patients return for continued treatment, ultimately achieving the goal of patient retention.

Learn how Tebra can help with our complete operating system dedicated to an exceptional patient experience.

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Jenn Green

Jenn Green has been a freelance writer for 8 years. She is a certified digital media marketer and an expert at SEO and building email marketing strategies. Her passion lies in writing engaging and impactful content for organizations.

Reviewed by

Drew Sutton

Dr. Drew Sutton is a board-certified ENT physician. He has vast experience in treating all aspects of ENT, with particular interests in disorders of the ear and nasal and sinus disease. During his career, he started and managed an independent, single-specialty medical practice in a large metropolitan area.

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