Building Patient Trust: Practical Tips for Busy Medical Practitioners

There are only 24 hours in a day; that won’t change. For busy professionals, especially physicians running a small practice, finding time to address the worsening issue of patient trust can seem nearly impossible. So, where do you start?

With the rise of healthcare consumerism, there’s increased focus on patient trust — and how it’s getting worse instead of better. You already have so many demands on your time that it might seem nearly impossible to tackle such a big issue. Where do you even start? 

The first step is understanding that trust between you and your patients is built over time and is crucial in every aspect of healthcare.

Trust is a central component of the physician-patient relationship. It’s largely driven by empathy, logic and authenticity and includes essential elements, such as honesty, competence in knowledge, respect, confidentiality and caring and competence in social and communication skills. 

It’s not just whether or not your patients like you and your staff. Patient trust impacts key health behaviors and outcomes, including patient satisfaction and treatment and vaccine adherence. 

Although most patients trust physicians to act in their best interest, that trust decreased during the COVID-19 pandemic. Approximately 30 percent of patients say they lost trust in the healthcare system during the pandemic. 

This decline isn’t only recent. A 1966 survey showed that 75 percent of Americans trusted medical professionals, decreasing to 33 percent by 2018. 

What Happens When Your Patients Don’t Trust You 

You might not even realize that you’re doing things to erode the trust of your patients. Maybe it’s a habit for you to cross your arms during an appointment or turn away a lot to make notes when you’re speaking with a patient. Patients can tell when you’re distracted. 

Some of the biggest reasons patients report for not trusting their doctor consist of not listening enough, not providing enough information, not making eye contact and seeming too financially motivated. The biggest patient complaint is that their physician spends too little time with them in their appointments. Long wait times don’t do anything to improve that, either. 

What happens when a patient loses trust in you and other healthcare professionals? Patients who don’t trust their physician are less likely to get annual preventive exams or openly talk about their symptoms. They consistently demonstrate less satisfaction with treatment and are less likely to adhere to public health recommendations. Research shows that these patients have been found more likely to report that they didn’t receive services they requested or ones they felt they needed — whether or not these services were requested.  

The Benefits of Enhanced Patient Trust

On the flip side, enhanced patient trust often results in improved outcomes. Why? Because patients who have higher trust in their doctors are more likely to disclose personal information, feel less anxious about their treatment, utilize more preventive healthcare and adhere to their medications. There are even studies that show a close relationship between patient trust and strong surgical outcomes. 

All this is pivotal to the success and sustainability of your practice. Patients with higher levels of trust are more likely to report that doctors trust what they say, spend time with them or care about them. That means they’re more satisfied with your care and will likely tell their family and friends about you and your practice. 

Those improved health outcomes in patients who trust their physicians? They’re key to improving patient retention, meaning more loyal patients. When you fail to retain patients, your practice has to work to acquire new ones or risk substantial profit. New patient visits typically are less profitable. And, attracting new patients costs up to eight times more than retaining an existing one. 

Easy-to-Implement Action Items 

So, what now? How do you improve your patients’ trust, especially if it takes more than one visit to do so. Here are some easy-to-implement tips, including some you’re probably already doing:

  1. Prioritize patients and make them feel important.
  2. Communicate on a personal level.
  3. Show empathy and provide encouragement.
  4. Listen actively without interruption.
  5. Utilize positive non-verbal communication (smile, nod).
  6. Maintain regular eye contact during appointments.
  7. Summarize patient concerns to show understanding.
  8. Respect their autonomy and involve them in decision-making.
  9. Avoid complex medical jargon; use plain language.
  10. Stay up-to-date with the latest medical research.
  11. Minimize technology usage during appointments.
  12. Engage in light conversation when appropriate.
  13. Train your staff to promote patient trust.
  14. Understand your patients’ social determinants of health (SDOH).
  15. Secure patient data by working with HIPAA-compliant vendors to maintain patient trust.

A more indirect method of improving your patients’ trust in you and your team involves keeping their personal data secure. HIPAA strengthens patient trust by helping to prevent protected health information (PHI) from being compromised and providing secure access to their medical information. 

When patients’ personal data is compromised by a third-party organization — whether intentional or not — they quickly lose trust in their healthcare providers. Data breaches also put patient safety at risk and lower the perceived quality of care. 

One of the biggest ways to avoid a data breach is by working with HIPAA-compliant vendors. For example, utilizing a secure VoIP system for reliable, modern communication will save your healthcare practice money, improve patient service and boost your efficiency and productivity. Also, by using a secure phone system for healthcare, you enable your patients to reach you, including by texting

We help physicians build trust by offering an HIPAA-compliant enterprise-class phone system designed specifically for the healthcare industry. Learn more about RingRx, and don’t hesitate to contact us with any questions.