Establishing Rapport with Patient and Family Members

Ok, now let's have you watch a doctor meeting with a patient and his family member. Your task is to use the FCOF to provide this doctor feedback. As you watch please mark your observations on a paper version of the FCOF, which you can download and print here -->

This first video clip is only 22 seconds long, but you'll be looking for ONLY those skills listed in the "Establishing Rapport..." section of the FCOF (shown highlighted in yellow below). If you need more explanation about the specific skills in this section, please scroll down to read about each skill. Remember to add comments on the FCOF if you have them.


When you've finished, compare your observations with ours. Click HERE


Need More Explanation?

Do you need any of these skills explained in more detail? Read about them below. Otherwise skip to the bottom of the page.

1. Introduce yourself to your patient if new

When meeting a patient for the first time introduce yourself, but don’t just offer your name. Give the patient enough information to orient them to your position/role as well. For example, “Hello I am doctor Cordana. I work with Doctor Aziz who took care of you in the hospital last week.”

2. Introduce yourself to family members if new

Remember that your patient’s family members could become some of your greatest allies when it comes to improving your patient’s health. Begin your relationship with them by using the same kind of introduction you would if they were your own patients.

3. Acknowledge the patient by name

Speak the patient’s name out loud, and use the name he/she gives you. For example, your health record might have “Bradley” listed as the patient’s first name, but if he introduces himself as “Brad” take note. Literally, if you need to, make a note in his chart to help you remember, because referring to him as “Bradley” after that can show that you weren’t listening or that you don’t really care.

4. Acknowledge family members by name

Ask for and state the names of everyone that the patient brought with them, even children. Doing so sends the message that their presence and positive influence is warranted and welcome. Some people have a strong preference for how they are addressed. When in doubt just ask. For example, if a family member says “I’m Cathy Naine,” you might ask “Would you prefer I call you Cathy or Mrs. Naine or something else?”

5. Clarify the relationship between patient and family member(s)

If you have ever heard a patient’s family member reply to you with something like, “No actually I’m not his mother. I’m his girlfriend!” then you know why it’s important to clarify the relationships in the room. But beyond avoiding our own embarrassment, clarifying the relationship can inform your decision making regarding how to run the visit, what topics to address, and also your treatment planning decisions. How should you ask about their relationship? Rather than make assumptions such as, “Are you Erin's boyfriend?” it is better to ask something more open like, "What is your relationship with Erin?” or “Who is this with you today Erin?”

6. Introduce other care providers present with you in the room

You might have a medical student or someone else shadowing you. Perhaps you have a behavioral health specialist or nutrition consultant with you in the room. Regardless of who it is or how directly involved he/she may be in the patient’s care, it’s important to introduce him/her by name and briefly mention why he/she is there. For example, “This is Nicole. She’s a medical student who is shadowing me. Is that ok with you if she observes me today?”

7. Briefly discuss non-medical topic or use humor

Seek to converse with your patients in a natural way about more than just the medical care you provide them. Doing so helps establish rapport and can make them feel more comfortable. This can be as simple as briefly discussing a generic topic like the weather (e.g. “What do you think of this heat wave we’re having lately?”) or noting a shared interest or topic (e.g. “I like that Nebraska hoodie you’re wearing. Go Big Red! Are you all Cornhusker fans too?”) or any other natural and spontaneous conversation that fits your personality and theirs. Keep these conversations very brief however, not just because you don’t have a lot of time, but also because in the end your patients have come to see you for your medical opinions, not your opinions on football or the weather.

8. Make appropriate eye contact

Your eyes let people know you are listening and that you care. It is fine to look at your computer screen briefly, but if it’s going to be for more than a few seconds let them know what you are doing (e.g. “I’m just checking your chart to see your latest lab results”). The point is to convey that they always have your attention. Have you ever been in a conversation with someone who is texting someone else at the same time? That feeling you get is what we hope to avoid having our patients and family members feel. Make eye contact with them throughout the visit, but especially during the introduction. Don't use your mobile phone during the visit unless it's for a purpose directly related to the patient's care and you clearly state why.