6 Ways to Establish Rapport With Your Patients

by Jonathan Goodman | Follow on Twitter

People invest in doctors, not treatment protocols — you’re in a relationship building business. Want more patients? Learn to build rapport using these 6 strategies…

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Note from the editor: Specific clinical examples have been supplemented by Dr. Alison Chen, ND.


PEOPLE INVEST IN DOCTORS, not treatment protocols — you’re in a relationship building business.

According to the Oxford Dictionary, rapport is,

“A close and harmonious relationship in which the people or groups concerned understand each other’s feelings or ideas and communicate well.”

One way to build rapport is to become the expert. You need to be more knowledgeable than other practitioners and be able to communicate it. Essentially, you have to follow my two rules to success:

  1. Do a great job.
  2. Make sure everybody knows about it.

But giving you advice to ‘do a great job’ is pretty superficial.

Here’s 6 ways to establish better rapport with your patients today. This list comes from Chet Holmes fantastic book, The Ultimate Sales Machine and I’ve altered each section with examples specific to Naturopathic medicine.

1. Ask Great Questions

Just asking questions isn’t enough, you need to know how to ask the right questions and not taking the patient’s goals at face value.

The best practitioners are not the ones who know how to give advice, they are the ones who know how to ask the right questions. So often we hear the phrase “the customer is always right” but frankly, it’s not true.

If you ask a patient what his goal is, he might say to lose weight. If he’s read a fitness magazine he might even adopt the lingo and say “to get a shredded six-pack”. But why does he want a shredded six-pack? Probably to get laid right? Well then getting laid is the goal, not the six-pack.

My point is not that the secret reason for every patient to lose weight is to have better sex although the science is pretty convincing:

My point is that you need to get deeper. Ask “why” a minimum of 3 times. If you don’t feel like your patient is giving you honest answers, become silent after they appear to have finished talking.

Making the room as awkward as when it must’ve been when Luke found out that Leia was his sister will the honesty in your patient.

(When people feel awkward and there is an established person in power (you) in the room, your patient will feel the urge to fill the silence. This is when true honestly comes out.)

When building rapport it’s also important to use questions to make a connection and find common interests. The faster that you can make the relationship personal, the more successful you will be with that patient.

Let’s imagine you are on a free consultation call with a potential patient. Everybody loves to talk about themselves so with that in mind, here are some questions to ask:

“What made you inquire about our clinic?”.“What have you tried before?”. “Oh cool, how did you like it?”

You then want to include questions that allow you to transition into your sales proposition. A couple examples might be,

“Are you familiar with our clinic?”. “Do you live in the area?”

The last major benefit of asking questions is that it keeps you in the control position. When a patient starts asking you questions, the power shifts in the meeting. Don’t allow this to happen. If they ask you a question, maintain your composure, and ask them another question and allow them to speak.

2. Have a Sense of Humor

Why so serious?

Yes patients sometimes talk about very heavy and traumatic events in their lives, but don’t let the whole visit fall into a dangerous rumination cycle. Bring some joy, laughter and lightheartedness to the appointment. You can even have some funny health-related comics or jokes hanging around the clinic.

Check out this gem from the Far Side:

I love it when practitioners have their children’s drawings or an interesting ornament left out on their desk. It is always a fun conversation starter that allows your patients to connect on a personal level and get a good laugh.

3. Commiserate

Be a supporter. Patients might be in a bad state when they come into the clinic.

Rule #1 is not to discuss these matters outside of your office.

Give a big smile (and hug if appropriate) and don’t let their mood dictate the appointment. Get to the heart of their concern and figure out if they can do something about it or if it’s healthier to let it go.

4. Be empathetic and care about them

I’m going to take the words directly from Chet here. “If you’re going to be interesting, be interested. If you want to be fascinating, be fascinated.”

“Maturity is when all of your mirrors turn into windows” – Anonymous (CLICK TO TWEET)

Take an avid interest in your patient. Know what’s important to them. Know their family members names. Know what important events are coming up. Keep track of their hobbies, interests, and quirks.

When I see a new patients I log them on a spreadsheet for keeping track of these details. You can also use programs and have your receptionist keep track of missed, cancelled or re-scheduled appointments. Click the link or image below to open in a new window and read after.

trackerTracking Naturopathic Doctor Patients [Please Steal My Worksheet] – Dr. Alison Chen, ND

5. Find the common ground

Finding a common interest either now or throughout your childhood could be the key to unlocking a bond. What music do you listen to, what are your favorite books, movies, sports teams, anything else?

I love travel and food. My patients all talk to me about the places we’ve visited, the local restaurants we love and our newest kitchen disasters. Creating a human connection will ease the hierarchy of the doctor-patient relationship to make the visit more intimate and free of judgement.

If you have kids, a favorite hobby, or are a book connoisseur, don’t be afraid to display them in your office to help build rapport.

Build rapport by sharing your interests: FOOD

Build rapport by sharing your interests: mine is FOOD

6. Mirror

The importance of isopraxism, or mirroring goes beyond the conscious mind.

When a patient stands, you stand. When they sit, you sit. If they speak softly, so do you. If they lean forward speaking enthusiastically about their achievement in going gluten-free for a week, you better be excited and engaged.

Aside from it being respectful, we’re a herding species. Matching body language and tonality to somebody else creates a connection and a subconscious affinity for one another.

Want to increase referrals and retention? Work on establishing rapport. There’s no point in trying to get more patients unless you already know how to treat your current ones.

About the Author
Jonathan Goodman

Jonathan Goodman is the co-creator of theNDDC and creator of thePTDC, the largest collaborative site for people looking to how to become a personal trainer. He is the author of Ignite the Fire. Jon maintains a personal blog where he speaks about business, the Internet, life, and everything in between at Viralnomics.