Motivating Patients to Like You

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Neil Baum, MD; and Neeraj Kohli, MD, MBA

Neil Baum, MD, is Clinical Associate Professor of Urology, Tulane Medical School, New Orleans, LA, and author of Marketing Your Clinical Practice-Ethically, Effectively, and Economically, Jones Bartlett Publishers.

Neeraj Kohli, MD, MBA, is Director, Division of Urogynecology, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, and Assistant Professor, Department of Ob/Gyn, Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA.


Patients want to be cared for by doctors who show an interest in them as individuals. It has been a well-known statistic that the average doctor interrupts a patient within 16 seconds after the doctor-patient interview begins. You know full well that few patients can learn to develop an emotional attachment in 16 seconds. This article will discuss seven steps to develop rapport that will make patients like you, will make them more compliant, and will have them leaving your office talking about you in a positive fashion.

1. Begin by walking into the room with a big smile on your face. This is the first impression that you will create on your patients. Your smile is a direct impact on how friendly you are and how receptive you will be to their concerns. Remember, you don’t get a second chance to make a good first impression.

2. Be easily impressed, entertained, and interested in your patients. You will find that patients get more pleasure from “wow-ing” you in a friendly, open, and engaged demeanor than being “wow-ed” by you. Most patients will be impressed with your degree, your white coat, and your reputation as a healer. The first encounter with a patient is their time to impress you. Be interested in their work, their family, their hobbies, and other areas outside of their medical problems. This only takes 30 to 60 seconds, but it is time well spent to demonstrate interest in your patients that is outside of the chief complaint and past medical history.

3. Have a friendly, open, engaged demeanor. This includes your body language as well as your verbal language. Start by leaning forward in the direction of the patient. Do not cross your legs or fold your arms, as these are generally recognized as defensive postures. Make every effort to make eye contact with the patient and not look at the chart or the computer if you have an electronic medical record. Move your head up and down and nod with recognition. This clearly demonstrates that you are actively listening to the patients, which they will appreciate.

4. Remember trait transfer. Whatever you say about other people shapes the way people see you. If you say positive things about other healthcare professionals, it is a positive reflection on you. If you say your primary care doctor is a terrific doctor, you become terrific by osmosis or trait transfer.

5. Laugh at yourself. This shows vulnerability and a sense of humor, which makes you more likeable and approachable. For example, I’m an amateur magician and many patients will ask me to do a trick. I always carry a coin or a trick in my pocket just in case I’m asked to perform. On occasion, the trick does not work and I always smile and say, “That’s why I’m a physician instead of a magician!” The patients laugh and although I didn’t dazzle them with my prestidigitation, I did show them I’m human, make mistakes, and can provide a little levity to their office visit.

6. Radiate positive energy and good humor. Your patients catch your emotions. If you walk into the room and appear hassled, in a hurry, and start out by using negative comments, you will radiate that negativity. If on the other hand, you start out with a smile and a nice compliment directed toward the patient, they will begin liking you and will appreciate having you as their doctor. Hippocrates expressed this attitude well more than 2000 years ago when he said, “Where there is love of humanity, there will be love of the profession.”

7. Show your liking for others, including your patients. We are more apt to like someone if we think that person likes us.

Bottom line: Patients don’t care about how much you know as they do about about how much you care. By following these seven steps you can generate an improved rapport and become more than just a doctor treating a disease state or a sick organ. You become a caring physician whom patients will like and feel glad that you are caring for them.

This article was inspired by the work of Gretchen Rubin, the author of The Happiness Project,