What it takes to develop rapport in a hurry

It's of little surprise that a recent spotlight story we ran about the trouble with 15-minute office visits hit a big nerve with readers. And a separate post about one of the many offshoots of that problem--patients not divulging to doctors all of their pertinent health details--was one of our most widely read pieces this year.

It's not a perfect analogy, but my recent experience bringing my children to a portrait studio at the mall offers some useful insights into the challenge of making a meaningful connection with people in a short amount of time.

As it typically is this time of year, the studio lobby was packed full of children in semi-matching holiday outfits spinning on stools, tugging on tights and desperately just wanting to go back to being kids--and a roughly equivalent number of parents desperately trying to keep their families presentable just long enough to get some decent photos taken.

The rest of the drill goes something like this: Once a family's name is finally called--roughly 30 minutes after their scheduled appointment--they are ushered into whichever studio room is available by a photographer they've never met. That photographer is then tasked with eliciting smiles, coaxing siblings at the age they'd rather not know each other to hold hands and hug. The photographer's job is to capture a series of images that transcend a dynamic set up to sabotage them in every possible way.

Oh, and they have about 15 minutes to accomplish this feat, before repeating it for the next family.

Sound familiar?

A small but passionate cadre of physicians have escaped the tyranny of the patient treadmill by switching to some form of direct care. If they were photographers, they'd be the ones who've left the mall to become private professionals families can hire to shoot them frolicking in a meadow for a day. They're the kind I'd love to pay top dollar to blow me away with their attention and expertise, aside from the fact that I'm on a mall-studio budget.

(As an aside, I'm aware that direct-care models operate at a variety of price points, as well as the availability of affordable private-session photography. Let's not get hung up on the nuances of the comparison.)

Nonetheless, while the current typical medical-visit dynamic is far from ideal, many physicians can and do make it work. In fact, this week we've featured a two-part series in which Keri Peterson, M.D., a New York-based internist and spokesperson for ZocDoc (the company behind the survey revealing reasons patients lie to doctors) provides FiercePracticeManagement readers with exclusive advice for building rapport with patients in short time.

Making a warm connection with people you spend just minutes with isn't easy. It's not one of my strengths. And having been through the portrait-studio ritual a few times now, I can tell you that there are tiny tricks those who are really good at it use--and succeed at getting pictures in which their subjects' personalities shine through.

In particular, addressing people by their names (they're written right in front of you) goes a long way. So does smiling, and, as Peterson noted, acting unhurried. At times, the operative word may be acting--which is unfortunate--but possibly one of the best strategies you have to get the real person before you to come out. - Deb (@PracticeMgt)