Overcoming the Unfamiliar Patient-Locum Relationship

Patients not following doctor instructions can be a frustrating deal for locum tenens physicians. Locums already face unique challenges working with patients only on a short-term basis; their jobs are made that much more difficult when advice is not followed.

It is understandable that some patients are reluctant to put their trust in a doctor they do not know. In a hospital environment especially, patients can be on the defensive throughout their stays. It is incumbent upon the doctor to find ways to overcome the problems created by the unfamiliar patient-locum relationship.

The locum doctor can simply choose to brush off any lack of trust he or she encounters among patients with the knowledge that those patients may never be seen again. But we assume most don’t want to operate that way. They generally want to see patients lead happier, healthier lives.

Make an Attempt at Empathy

A good place to start for locum doctors is empathy. Though empathy does not come as easy to some as it does to others, the locum will find his or her job a lot easier if he/she makes an attempt to be empathetic toward patients. The best locums understand where their patients are coming from. They understand what the lack of trust and familiarity breeds; they understand the general mistrust of the medical profession among the general public.

Being empathetic doesn’t necessarily mean a doctor has to agree with the patient’s thoughts and beliefs. Empathy only seeks to understand that some people feel a certain way, and there is no benefit in holding it against him.

Work on Improving Communication

Communication is key to the doctor-patient relationship regardless of whether a doctor is working as a locum or not. When patients feel as though they are being freely and openly communicated with, they are more likely to follow the instructions given them. That means one of the best things locums can do for themselves is work on improving communication.

No doctor will be an expert communicator right out of residency. Learning to effectively communicate takes time and practice. The point is to never stop working at it. Doctors should pay attention to what works, what doesn’t work, and what other doctors are doing successfully.

Accommodate for Illiteracy

Some doctors struggle with the health illiteracy they observe in their patients. This is understandable, but it should not be allowed to interfere with the doctor-patient relationship. Furthermore, accommodating for that illiteracy can improve communication and trust.

As an example, it helps when doctors speak to their patients in common language. It’s okay to speak with colleagues using professional language, but doctors cannot expect their patients to understand professional words and phrases. They need things put to them in language they understand. After all, they didn’t go to medical school to become doctors.

Be Prepared to Offer Explanations

Another fantastic way to improve the locum-patient relationship is to always be prepared to offer explanations. In other words, doctors should be able to explain why they are giving a patient certain instructions. When patients know ‘why’, they are more likely to follow through on what the doctor tells them.

One thing locum doctors can do for themselves is to make a concerted effort to not allow the unfamiliar locum-patient relationship to be a source of frustration. Even when doctor and patient are not familiar with one another, good work can be done. It is a matter of finding some common ground, interacting with patients in a way that they understand, and giving them a reason to follow instructions above and beyond just the fact that the doctor told them so.