Clinician practices to connect with patients


Background: As technology and medical advances improve patient care, physicians and patients have become more dissatisfied with their interactions and relationships. Practices are needed to improve the connection between physician and patient.

Study design: Mixed-methods.

Setting: Three diverse primary care settings (academic medical center, Veterans Affairs facility, federally qualified health center).

Synopsis: Initial evidence- and narrative-based practices were identified from a systematic literature review, clinical observations of primary care encounters, and qualitative discussions with physicians, patients, and nonmedical professionals. A three-round modified Delphi process was performed with experts representing different aspects of the patient-physician relationship.

Five recommended clinical practices were recognized to foster presence and meaningful connections with patients: 1. Prepare with intention (becoming familiar with the patient before you meet them); 2. Listen intently and completely (sit down, lean forward, and don’t interrupt, but listen); 3. Agree on what matters most (discover your patient’s goals and fit them into the visit); 4. Connect with the patient’s story (take notice of efforts by the patient and successes); 5. Explore emotional cues (be aware of your patient’s emotions). Limitations of this study include the use of convenience sampling for the qualitative research, lack of international diversity of the expert panelists, and the lack of validation of the five practices as a whole.

Bottom line: The five practices of prepare with intention, listen intently and completely, agree on what matters most, connect with the patient’s story, and explore emotional cues may improve the patient-physician connection.

Citation: Zulman DM et al. Practices to foster physician presence and connection with patients in the clinical encounter. JAMA. 2020;323(1):70-81.

Dr. Trammell-Velasquez is a hospitalist and associate professor of medicine at University of Texas Health, San Antonio.

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