Top 5 Tips for Building Patient-Provider Relationships

If you are at all active in social media, you need no introduction to Jerry Durham. Jerry is passionate about physical therapy, the San Francisco Giants, socks, shoes, and the patient experience. He has presented on the topic of the patient experience at APTA CSM, APTA PPS, and in private training courses for clinic owners and therapists. We asked Jerry for his top 5 tips for building a strong patient/provider relationship. Here’s what he had to share:

1) Listen

Therapists love to say that we are one of the only healthcare professionals who give people time; yet, we spend most of our session (especially the initial evaluation) talking! We need to sit down with the person who is coming to us for help, make eye contact, ask appropriate questions, and then be quiet. If we let our patients talk without interrupting them, they will tell us everything we need to know. Then we can ask a few other questions to get the rest of the information we need.

2) Empathize

Empathy involves not only understanding the experiences, concerns and perspectives of the patient, but also the capacity to communicate this understanding. It can be as simple as saying to the patient in the initial evaluation, “What I hear you saying is that you’re having trouble going up the stairs and that makes it difficult for you to live in your home.” We need to be present and engaged with our patients.

3) Focus on them

It has to be about the patient – THEIR goals and THEIR concerns. We need to tie everything back to THEM. For example, we can say,

“You have the goal of getting up the stairs at home; this exercise is to help you do that.”

We also need to frequently ask the patient, “What do you need from me? How can I help you?”

4) Build trust

When patients know that you have their best interests in mind, they can begin to trust you. On the patient’s second visit you can say, “You told me that going up the stairs was difficult for you, is that getting any easier?” When the patient sees that you listened to what they said in the first visit and that you’re following up, they begin to trust you. (For more on trust, see this recent blog from Andy DeLaO!)

5) Don’t disappear

There should be no such thing as a discharged patient.

If a patient has reached their goals, they have simply ended that course of care. Stay in touch with your patients after discharge - send notes, call to see how they are doing or send relevant content. Nothing undoes trust more than disappearing. Let your patients know that you are there for them even once they are no longer coming in for treatment. Build a relationship for life by becoming “their physical therapist.”


Thanks for sharing your passion with us, Jerry! If you want to catch Jerry live, he will be in Chicago from May 20-22 speaking about the patient experience at Entropy Physiotherapy and Wellness. More courses to be announced for 2016 soon. Also, (#pinksocks) cover photo credit goes to Eric Robertson.

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Ann Wendel



Physical Therapist, Writer, Speaker, Consultant, Kettlebell Lover. Director of Brand Marketing for @strive_labs and @APTAtweets Media Spokesperson.