Patient-centered care is a term most physicians encounter every day. In fact, it’s so common that it could be considered a buzzword.

However, it’s something that we all need to be incredibly mindful about. If you’re a resident or a new physician, you should take extra time to cultivate this quality. Good habits are created early, and patient-centeredness is something that most hiring organizations take very seriously.

But in the end, being patient-centered isn’t about cultivating a quality that will make you more appealing to employers. It’s about genuinely connecting with your patients and giving the best care you possibly can.

Whether you feel patient-centeredness is one of your strengths, or you think you could stand some improvement, I’ve developed a list of five things you can focus on to provide better care.

Want to know how patient-centered you really are? Take this simple test: For each category below, give yourself a “1” if you feel particularly weak in that area. If a category identifies a strength of yours, give yourself a “5.”  Give yourself a “2,” “3” or “4” if you think you fall somewhere in between.

1. Do you show empathy and match your feelings with those of another person in an interaction?

Research has shown that empathy is more important in patient-physician relationships than we might think. It’s also one of the best skills you can work on to improve your bedside manner.

Take time to really listen to your patients, and imagine what it’s like to be in their position. What would you be thinking? What would you be concerned about? Use your realizations to inform your interactions and improve your care.

2. Are you able to develop a high level of trust with your patients?

Trust is something that can take a long time to build, so this isn’t something you can improve instantaneously. Listening, taking time to educate and inform your patients and working on your empathy skills are all things you can do to build trust over time.

3. Do patients feel comfortable sharing their health concerns with you?

One of the main reasons patients may not feel comfortable sharing health concerns with their physicians is that they’re embarrassed, frightened or nervous. Again, building your empathy skills can make it much easier to successfully communicate with people who are experiencing these emotions. Someone who is embarrassed or frightened isn’t as likely to open up to someone who seems rushed or rude.

Think about it: If a patient doesn’t feel comfortable opening up to you, he or she might not tell you everything you need to know, and you might not be able to provide the right treatment.

4. Can you easily meet and initiate conversations with new people when necessary?

Being a physician means you’ll encounter new patients on a regular basis. If you’re even a little bit shy, this can be a struggle, but it does get easier with practice. Smiling — even when you don’t “mean it” at first — instantly elevates your mood and puts you at ease.

You don’t have to be Ms. (or Mr.) Congeniality, but if you know you have a tendency towards shyness, take small steps to work on it over time.

5. Are you a strong communicator? Can you balance listening, responding and explaining?

Being a strong communicator takes consistent practice. It means thinking outside of yourself and respecting a conversation as a two-way street. While that might sound like advice for a two-year-old, it’s really applicable for all of us.

The next time you have a conversation with a patient, take mental notes as you talk: Are you actively taking time to listen to the patient, or are you more eager to say what you think? Do you tend to cut people off in the middle of sentences, or do you give them enough room to fully express their thoughts? Simply paying attention to the way you have conversations can be incredibly enlightening and informative.

What else can you focus on to provide patient-centered care?      


Though the views expressed above are solely the writer’s, Southern Illinois Healthcare supports “The Dose with Dr. Goodhook” and is partnering with Adventures in Medicine to create an open, inspiring and insightful community for residents and physicians. Click here to learn more about ways that Southern Illinois Healthcare is making practice purposeful.