How to Maintain Trust in Patient/Doctor Relationships

Updated on July 9, 2021
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By Marie Miguel

When medical procedures and treatments are in the picture, establishing trust is one of the most important aspects of a relationship between patient and doctor. 

Uncertainty and risks exist for every procedure, and the doctor needs to be honest enough to show and explain those risks to the patients. 

On the other hand, the patient needs to sufficiently trust the doctor to explain any aspects of the patient’s medical history or potential side effects that might have an impact on the treatment. The patient needs to be an advocate for themself and bring up any relevant personal information, and then trust the doctor to do the rest.

If you want to learn more about building relationships based on trust, or if you feel like you have trust issues, you might want to check out a psychological specialist. Platforms such as BetterHelp guarantee that you have access to great mental health professionals and resources if you need them.

Why is building trust between patient and doctor important?

Although being a good doctor who also has a great reputation are conditions that can help bring patients to you, it is important that you also build a solid and trustful relationship with each one of them.

Trust is the most important thing a patient can give to their doctor. Without trust, the patient won’t be totally honest with their doctor, which could lead to them leaving out important parts of their life history that could affect treatment. 

Trust for a doctor is also about not raising unwanted judgments about your patient, letting them explain their present and past conditions without pointing fingers at any prior decisions, which may ultimately prove unhelpful or decrease trust between the two people.

In fact, high levels of trust have been scientifically proven to lead to the perception of better care, patients accepting and truly following a treatment easily, low uneasiness to the suggested treatment, and higher access to health services. 

It is also about sharing the decision-making process. If the patient trusts their doctor and is truthful about the information they have disclosed, the decision of which path to take is shared between both of them equally and is, therefore, more likely to be successful.

How to build trust?

Here are five steps to consider when building trust between patients and doctors:

Show empathy since day one

From the first day that you meet with your patient, show empathy. That means both truly listening to their health complaints and specifically saying that you are there to help them to get better. 

Put aside any preconceived notions, and ask your patients personal questions that matter to their health complaints. Listen before you talk.

Make the best of your time with the patient

Medical appointments usually are fast, usually just 15 minutes, so make sure you, as a doctor, are using this time wisely. Put aside your telephone and show your patient that they matter and they are just as important as any other patient. It is about treating everyone equally and showing your patient that you are serious about your job.

Body language matters

It is not only what you say to your patient that matters, but also what you are not saying and showing with your body gestures. 

If you cross your arms, for example, it might seem to your patient that you are not open to what they are saying. If your office is too cold in temperature, the patient might not feel as welcome as you wish they would. Keep your hands open, as it looks more inviting. Do not forget to smile and make eye contact!

Respect your patient’s decisions

As much as you want to make sure your patient gets better, you also need to respect their decision regarding any treatment they might need to make. You are there to give them the information, as a specialist, so that they know you are serious about what you are talking about. 

However, some treatments are personal to one’s life and they should be free to make their own decisions. Showing that you respect your patient’s autonomy is also a way of treating them as an equal during the decision-making process.

Check information

When asking your patient about the information you need, the doctor needs to make sure they are getting it right. Take notes, always read it back, and ask your patient if it’s correct. This is important for two reasons: one, for getting the most accurate diagnosis, and, two, for showing to your patient that you are serious about the information they gave you. 

Patients do not always have a firm grasp of their own family and medical history, so double-checking and bringing up any potential complications, even if they do not seem like they will be relevant, can help the patient recall anything they need to so they feel like they’re receiving comprehensive care. 

What to do to maintain it?

A doctor’s reputation is an effective way to maintain and share one’s positive relationships with patients. When always acting with honesty and integrity, public trust will remain high for any health care provider.

That means nurturing many aspects:

  • Following ethical standards and procedures
  • Always being open and honest when dealing with patients
  • Maintaining confidentiality between doctor and patient
  • Show respect and care, while also respecting your professional boundaries
  • Communicate effectively, check information, be open and honest, and forget any preconceived notions

Marie Miguel has been a writing and research expert for nearly a decade, covering a variety of health- related topics. Currently, she is contributing to the expansion and growth of a free online mental health resource with With an interest and dedication to addressing stigmas associated with mental health, she continues to specifically target subjects related to anxiety and depression.

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The Editorial Team at Healthcare Business Today is made up of skilled healthcare writers and experts, led by our managing editor, Daniel Casciato, who has over 25 years of experience in healthcare writing. Since 1998, we have produced compelling and informative content for numerous publications, establishing ourselves as a trusted resource for health and wellness information. We offer readers access to fresh health, medicine, science, and technology developments and the latest in patient news, emphasizing how these developments affect our lives.