Hospital Impact: Like in coaching, trust is paramount in healthcare relationships

Doctor examining patient

Photo credit: Getty/kazoka30

headshot of Thomas Dahlborg

As I participated recently in an intense and powerful coaching development institute, among the myriad of information shared, the following specifically caught my eye:

According to David Maister, in the book “The Trusted Advisor.” when trust is in place, a client will:

  • Ask for advice
  • Be inclined to accept and act on your recommendations
  • Bring you in on more advanced, complex and strategic issues
  • Respect you
  • Refer you to others
  • Protect you when you need it
  • Warn you of dangers to avoid
  • Forgive you when you make a mistake
  • Trust your instincts and judgements

Clearly, “developing trust” is essential to any coaching practice, be it coaching young men’s basketball, physician practices or large hospital systems--and yet, that is not where my mind went immediately.

Rather, my mind related Maister’s words about trust and coaching to the impact of trust in every healing encounter when we create relationship-centered healthcare models and implement prescriptive tactics that position physicians and patients for continuity, foster an authentic connection and share empathy and compassion.

Through her communication-focused lens, Adrienne Boissy, M.D., highlights some of the impact quite nicely in an article posted on Trust, she says:

  • Improves patient satisfaction
  • Reduces medical errors and malpractice suits
  • Improves health outcomes
  • Improves treatment adherence/compliance
  • Decreases patient emotional stress
  • Improves physician satisfaction

And perhaps a woman named Betty (who you may recall I have written about previously) even more so highlights the importance of trust from her perspective--the patient perspective.

She shared the following…

My primary care physician retired recently. I had been seeing him at least four times per year for the past 15 years. He knew me and he cared about me. He recommended I do something … and I did. I trusted him.

For the past nine months, I have been seeing a new doctor. He seems nice, but he does not know me. He does not know the details and nuances of my lengthy and complex medical history.

Yes, he has read my “problem list,” but that does not tell him who I really am. (By the way, why would they call it that … a “problem list”? Am I just a list of problems to him?)

Anyway, this new doctor does not know my personality or my English wit. In fact, I feel like he just sees me as a “cranky old bitty.”

And he is now ordering more and more tests. Tests I have never had before. And I don’t know why. You know, I am always afraid the more tests they do, the more harm will be done to me. 

Truth be told, I don’t trust him. At least not yet.

I don’t want his advice. I don’t want to follow his recommendations. Why would I? He does not know me or my preferences … what I want.

Tom, I am getting older and sicker … and I am scared. At this age I just want to live my life. Why did my doctor have to retire?

Yes, trust is essential when coaching. And, yes, trust is essential between a physician and his/her patient.

  • Want a coaching client to act on recommendations? Develop trust.
  • Want a patient to act on recommendations? Develop trust.
  • Want to best support a young men’s basketball team, a physician practice or a large hospital system to achieve its mission? Develop trust.
  • Want to best support a patient on his or her healing (or dying) journey? Develop trust.

Trust does not just happen. It is intentional and requires much of each of us. And it is essential.

Be sure to look for my next post where I highlight keys to developing, enhancing and maintaining trust.

Thomas H. Dahlborg, M.S.H.S.M., is an industry voice for relationship-centered compassionate care and servant leadership. He is a keynote speaker, author, consultant and adviser and is the president of the Dahlborg Healthcare Leadership Group.