Caregiving is a lot of work. Caregivers often feel overwhelmed with loads of tasks, and it’s easy to mistake being this busy with a genuine caregiver-patient relationship.
Ironically, the meaningful interaction in the relationship is lost when all a caregiver has time for is crossing tasks of the to-do list, while forgetting to check in with what the patient thinks and feels. In healthcare, this problem can be all too real when a list of tasks replaces the care in caregiving.
A strong caregiver-patient relationship increases trust. Patients are likely to trust the healthcare team and follow treatment instructions, leading to quality care and positive outcomes. Patients who trust their caregivers also tend to open up about their issues, concerns, and symptoms, which could serve as a gateway to a more thorough examination by the nurse or the physician.
Quality one-on-one time can make a patient feel better, respected, and appreciated, rather than just feeling like a disease to be treated. Genuine conversations also help ease a patient's negative feelings, such as anger, sadness, and anxiety, which makes caregiving all the more significant.
Making positive connections with your patients is truly important, so don't let this effort fall through the cracks.
So now that we know that having positive connections with patients is a must rather than a bonus, what can you do to make this a daily achievement?
1. Decide to make an effort.
Building rapport with the patient does not often happen spontaneously, so unless you are a people person who really loves interacting with others, you have to decide to act first. Go ahead and initiate the conversation!
Look at the patient directly and properly introduce yourself. Smile often. Topics of conversation should not be limited to their symptoms and illness. When the conversation is about the patient and their life outside their health complaints, let the stories flow.
2. Be sincere.
Patients can sense if you are genuinely working for their wellbeing. They can also tell if all you care about is finishing your shift, or if you complete your tasks half-heartedly. They resent that kind of attitude and tend to avoid interacting with you.
If you are having a hard time at work because of a personal or workplace issue, it’s ok to let them know that your day is not going so well but that it’s not their fault. Be sure to remind them you still have their best interests in mind. You might be surprised—they may even cheer you up!
Another way to show sincerity is to listen and react appropriately. If a patient starts telling you about their daughter Mary being sick with flu, be sure to ask them how Mary is doing by name, not just referring to a “daughter.“ This extra effort can really make a difference to your patient!
3. Ask how the patient is feeling, what they are thinking, and what their preferences are.
This is focusing on the patient and their unique qualities, not just their illness and health needs. You can also tell them what you observe about them. You can say, "You seem tired today," or "You’re looking a little down." These words validate what your patient is going through and they can easily connect with you once they feel you are really concerned.
4. Use touch.
Touch is a powerful way to establish a caregiver-patient bond, if it is done with sincere gestures and thoughtful communication. When appropriate, place a hand over the hand or shoulders of an anxious patient, and you will see them feel better instantly.
5. Provide quality care.
While we said that the caregiver-patient relationship is not just about accomplishing daily duties, quality work speaks a thousand words. Make sure you’re doing the right tasks at the right time, get organized, and prioritize, so you can work as efficiently as possible while maintaining the highest quality care.
The essence of making positive connections at work is centered around the patient, who we all want to get better. Let's not forget that building healthy relationships with patients is also about you, the caregiver, finding deeper meaning and purpose in what you do. Positive caregiver-patient relationships reignite your passion for your work, making it a win-win situation from every angle.
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