A Method for Establishing Patient Rapport


It starts with being mindful — not only of what we say, but also of how it is being heard.

Fam Pract Manag. 2021 Mar-Apr;28(2):42.

Author disclosure: no relevant financial affiliations disclosed.

In the current environment — with increased stress among our patients due to the pandemic and other societal factors, as well as increased pressure on our practices to improve value and patient satisfaction — it is becoming more and more vital that we establish a positive and strong rapport with every patient. This rapport fosters trust and openness, and it ultimately yields better adherence to the care plan and improved health outcomes.

But how do we establish rapport? How do we get patients to trust us and to listen so that we can help them and improve patient satisfaction?

There is a slew of research on this topic, along with reams of potential strategies. But I'd like to focus on just one thing: Building rapport starts with being mindful of how we are communicating and what messages we are sending beyond the surface of our words.

We communicate all day long. We greet, we ask, we explain, we plan, we disclose, we lecture, we theorize, and we talk about numerous issues with our patients. Patients, however, only hear a portion of what we say. To physicians, this can be disconcerting and frustrating. After all, we've invested our time, expertise, and energy to tell our patients something beneficial. They should readily hear and understand it, right? But research shows that patients only remember 20%–60% of the information delivered to them, depending on the type and complexity of the information.1

Therefore, it is imperative to become increasingly aware of what the patient “hears” beyond our words. Patients “hear” our tone, posture, facial expressions, and most importantly our care and concern. In essence, patients hear our heart. They might not grasp the physiology of their diabetes or the details of how their beta blocker works, but they feel our concern and inwardly assess our genuine desire to help them at every encounter. From the patient perspective, our concern and intent speak louder than our actual words.

The following pointers can help us focus


Dr. Barksdale is a family physician with Texas Health Family Care in Sunnyvale, Texas.

Author disclosure: no relevant financial affiliations disclosed.


1. Brega AG, Barnard J, Mabachi NM, et al. AHRQ Health Literacy Universal Precautions Toolkit, 2nd ed. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality Publication No. 15-0023-EF. Rockville, MD: AHRQ; January 2015. Accessed Feb. 11, 2021.

2. Lasagna L. The Hippocratic Oath: modern version. WGBH Educational Foundation for PBS and NOVA Online. November 2001. Accessed Feb. 10, 2021.


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