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Think back to why you became a healthcare practitioner. Was it to commit your life to a purpose greater than yourself? To empower others to prioritize their health? To play a critical role in an always-changing field?

No matter the exact reason, most people become medical professionals for a similar cause: to help others.

Patient note taking

Traditionally, helping others includes minimizing symptoms, optimizing prognosis, and emphasizing the importance of lifestyle choices. More recently, we’ve realized that another critical factor should be a part of each treatment plan: social relationships.

Defined as “an individual’s self-report of the quality of his or her relationship with other people, the neighborhood, and the community,” social health plays a crucial role in our overall health. For example, this study found that social relationships were as influential on risk for mortality as well-established risk factors for mortality.

Maintaining optimal health requires attention to our physical, mental, and social health. As doctors, you can play an important role by establishing a great relationship with every patient.

Here’s more on why human connection is essential to the healthcare patient experience.

Health benefits of having human connections

When we have quality relationships that create a sense of belonging and being supported, our minds, bodies, and behaviors benefit.

The CDC found that people with strong social relationships have a 50 percent increased likelihood of survival than those with fewer social connections. In addition, this report from Hero Health found that:

  • People with ovarian cancer lived longer if they had greater social attachment.
  • Chronically ill patients who received social support plus standard medical care were 20 percent more likely to survive and 29 percent more likely to survive longer than patients who only received standard medical care.
  • People with higher-quality social relationships exhibited fewer symptoms and were hospitalized fewer times in the three years following their first experience of mental psychosis.
Smiling man and woman

Besides leading to better mental and physical health outcomes, social connectedness also benefits us in other ways. It can

  • Help us make healthy choices regarding eating, physical activity, and weight.
  • Prevent serious illness and outcomes from chronic diseases.
  • Improve our well-being, sleep, and quality of life.
  • Reduce our risk of violent and suicidal behaviors.
  • Create trust and resilience within communities.
  • Enable us to cope better with hard times, stress, anxiety, and depression, and
  • Encourage people to contribute to their communities and strengthen social connections.

Human connections in the healthcare patient experience

It’s never easy battling an illness or going into a necessary surgery. But you face a real challenge when you’re doing it without strong social relationships with others.

When you have people who support you throughout your healing journey, you benefit from greater self-efficacy and fortitude. You have more information and resources available to you that may influence your beliefs, behaviors, and actions surrounding your medical care.

Nurse holding patient hand

But if you’re going through it alone, you’re more apt to develop anxiety, stress, and loneliness. In turn, these conditions may only worsen your initial medical illness.

Building and preserving healthcare professional-patient relationships

As a medical practitioner, you can create a meaningful connection with each of your patients. So even if they have limited social relationships, they know they still have someone who cares about them.

An effective healthcare professional-patient relationship can be hugely influential. This report showed that patients of empathetic physicians:

  • Feel more satisfied and enabled,
  • Experience less anxiety and distress, and
  • Show significantly better clinical outcomes.

Similarly, another review found that the relationship quality between therapists and their patients is consistently linked to patient outcomes.

Developing human connections in your medical office

Family and friends play a significant role in a patient’s social life. However, you can also play an important role in building social relationships with your patient as their medical practitioner.

Patient getting skin injection

Pay attention to every patient

It all starts with giving each patient your full attention. Spend time familiarizing yourself with their chart before entering their exam room to remind yourself of the patient you’re about to examine. Call them by name, position yourself to listen, and look directly at them when speaking to them.

Notice, name, and validate your patient’s verbal and nonverbal emotional cues. This shows real concern about how they’re feeling. Avoid rushing through their appointment and treat each patient as an equal.

Viewing your patients as more than ‘just a number’ increases the likelihood of developing a long-term relationship.

Provide superior customer service

From the moment they contact your office, the patient experience begins. Do everything possible to ensure it’s as outstanding as possible.

Use a medical reception service full of caring individuals who provide care around the clock. That way, patients receive quality care no matter what day or time they contact your office.

Nobody likes feeling like their concerns aren’t valid. Allot sufficient time with each patient to fully understand their health concerns and diagnose correctly.

Doctor treating patient

Be professional yet friendly

Whether it’s during a patient intake process or at their 20th physical appointment with your office, always act professionally.

But that doesn’t mean you can’t be warm, friendly, and empathetic. Each conversation you have with a patient shapes their trust, understanding, and satisfaction. Research shows that those with caring healthcare providers are:

  • More likely to follow their provider’s care plan,
  • Experience less anxiety and distress,
  • Want to attend follow-up appointments, and
  • Feel confident in their ability to cope with chronic illnesses.

Most importantly, patients of empathetic physicians experience better health outcomes.

The power of human connection in the patient experience

Social health – a type of well-being that stems from having strong relationships and connections with others – plays an instrumental role in our overall health. It has a healing power that leads to patients experiencing fewer symptoms, more positive health outcomes, and better overall well-being.

Smiling woman

As a medical practitioner, you play an instrumental role in your patients’ lives – a role that extends past prescribing treatments and medications. Instead, you can create a better overall healthcare patient experience. That starts by establishing a solid human connection with every patient.

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Lauryn Davidson

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