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How to Build a Trusting Relationship with a Patient

Can Simulation Help?

HCAHPS (the Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems) is on everyone’s mind. A low or high score can impact a hospital’s marketability as well as its reimbursement rates. The relationship between a patient and a healthcare provider is central to this. It is also one of the most important determinants of the care a patient will receive. If patients trust their provider, they are more likely to be honest about their symptoms – which can lead to better care.1

What Makes a Good Patient Experience?

Patients agree that having a doctor or nurse who listens to them, who is compassionate, and caring, and who explains well were the most important aspects of their health care.2

With most doctors only being able to spend an average of 15 minutes with a patient, exactly how can they build that trust? 3 Each patient is different and has different needs, so what skills can universally help to open communication? And, most importantly, how can these skills be taught and practiced effectively among all healthcare disciplines?

In this article, we address these questions and share how simulation can help to promote the development of trust-building skills.

How Can Healthcare Providers Promote a Trusting Environment?

In patients, high levels of trust have been associated with:4
A perception of better care
Greater adherence to recommended treatment
Lower anxiety in relation to treatment

Below is a list of behaviors that can be used to establish trust with patients. But before reading, imagine two alternatives for instilling these behaviors in your staff: on the job training versus simulation training. Simulation has been proven to deliver training more consistently, more efficiently, and more safely than on the job training.

First and foremost, building good rapport

Rapport is not "one-size-fits-all" and it may come easier with some patients over others. It takes practice of interpersonal communication skills to learn how to start and maintain friendly conversation. Some easy methods of building rapport are to ask how a patient’s family is, where they attend school, what hobbies they have, or find some common ground.

Managing non-verbal communication cues

Communication is not solely based on what is verbally stated; rather, it includes how a healthcare provider’s body language can be interpreted. Maintaining eye contact, avoiding crossed arms or turning away from a patient, and providing a comforting touch can put a patient at ease.

Listening actively and confirming a message received

Listening actively means listening to understand, not to respond. In a patient-provider interaction, this can mean repeating what the patient said and confirming that it is what he or she meant. For patient’s with low health literacy, this can be particularly beneficial as they may not know how to communicate what they are feeling in the appropriate terms.

Showing empathy for what the patient is going through

Patients can be nervous, anxious, angry, and experiencing painful symptoms when they meet a healthcare professional. When doctors and nurses try to understand their patient’s perspective and concerns, the patient feels more welcome to share intimate details of their situation.

How to Use Simulation to Train for These Interactions

Simulation is often regarded as one of the best training methods to teach healthcare providers hands-on clinical procedures and tasks. However, many of the skills required to build trust with patients can be taught using simulation as well.

Using standardized patients, who can mimic emotional and psychological displays, is one way to introduce skills related to listening, observing, and communicating. But, training can be taken one step further with the use of a full-bodied simulator, capable of receiving medical interventions.

Patients can become uncomfortable when things are being done "to them", especially when they don't understand the purpose or reason. Using a patient simulator can help healthcare providers to develop the necessary balance of providing explanations, keeping patients calm, and carefully performing clinical tasks at the same time.

This type of interactive training can foster strong communication habits that will lead to countless healthy and trusting patient-provider relationships.

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  1. Holman, T. (2017). How to build patient trust to improve the doctor-patient relationship. Dignity Health. Retrieved from
  2. Ibid
  3. Ibid
  4. Allinson, M. (2016). How to build and maintain trust with patients. The Pharmaceutical Journal. Retrieved from