2016

5 Factors Which Alter Patient Perception

I was recently attending a conference which focused on helping residents transition into new chief year leadership roles. One of the talks centered around perception and focused on how the way people perceive you, your motives, your goals, etc., can truly alter your effectiveness as a teacher/leader.

This discussion led me to start considering how quality patient care is produced - obviously leading patients is quite similar to leading others in your field, some aspects of being a great clinician must overlap with being a great leader. In considering my experience as a patient, which thankfully has pretty much been limited to preventative and pregnancy care, a cesarean section, and being a short-term NICU mom, I thought back over what guided my perception of that experience. How did my perception of the care I received affect how I felt about my experiences? What makes quality care? What do our patients want?

Overall, I think we can agree that patients want quality care, but how do we create that? Obviously, practicing at standard of care is essential, but in addition to that, what are the factors that allow a patient to leave feeling satisfied with their health care?

 Here’s a list of 5 main factors that go into making up the perception facet of quality healthcare: 

 1. Communication

During my time as a patient and mom of sick babies I vividly remember wanting to be involved in the plan. My teams all did an excellent job with this and my perception of my care was totally shaped by simply being "in the loop." Some days that was being present when they rounded on my twins and some days that was being told my personal plan as far as postpartum recovery. Making sure patients feel up-to-date and involved is key.

2. Time 

Whether by truth or simply perception, the time someone spent with me seemed expanded when they took time to sit down and talk directly to me (as opposed to over me). I think we miss the boat on this point most significantly in rounding situations where we tend to stand over a bed and talk to (or just about) a groggy, half-sleeping face. This will never be perceived as time with your patients, it’s uncomfortable and frustrating. Taking the time to sit, even for just a minute, can make a huge difference in how patients perceive the care you’re giving.

3. Involvement 

Asking what the patient is thinking can make a huge difference in their perception of care. By just feeling involved in the decision making process with a simple "how do you feel about..." we start to feel that our voices are being heard and our opinions matter. And they do - autonomy is an important, and sometimes forgotten, aspect of quality care. 

4. Empathy

Express to your patients that you may not have personally experienced their situation, but that you do understand and share some of their feelings. Whether it be a degree of sadness, frustration, anger, etc., we all internalize some amount of these feelings our patients experience, simply by way of being involved in their care. Knowing you are personally invested in their situation, even if just a small amount, allows the patient to perceive you as a human (and you to do the same).  

5. Respect

Like everyone else, our patients’ perception of how much respect they are shown will alter their overall view of the care they receive. This one should be simple and goes back to the golden rule, altered slightly for doctoring - “Treat patients as you would want your mother/grandparent/child to be treated.”

While it may be frustrating on some level that our care is not just related to how well we perform as physicians, this is essential to building and maintaining positive doctor-patient relationships. As we move into an era where we are reimbursed based on patient satisfaction, these factors (which together essentially make up what we refer to as “bedside manner”) will become even more significant. It really makes you wonder if we should be relying more heavily on social interaction skills as a factor in medical school admissions, but that’s another blog, for another day.