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Everything you need to know about building Rapport

Decision making is tough. From choosing what to eat for breakfast to what career to choose, decisions can easily bog us down. This can be especially overwhelming when making decisions in healthcare. Health and wellness are an important part of life; therefore, we want to feel secure in the choices we make surrounding our health. One of the best ways to feel confident in our healthcare choices is to have trust in our healthcare provider. For providers, relationships, trust, and ethics should be the foundation of taking care of patients. Ensuring that both the practitioner and patient are on the same page will promote openness and instill confidence when making decisions. So … how exactly do we build these strong relationships?

Rapport is a fancy word used in the healthcare field to describe the partnership between a clinician and their patient. By definition, rapport means: meaningful, harmonious relationship between two or more people. It is vital to build rapport to improve trust and facilitate communication between a healthcare provider and patient. As the patient becomes more comfortable, they are more likely to open up about their condition, which allows their provider to treat them with more confidence and accuracy. Additionally, rapport can alleviate feelings of stress for those individuals who feel anxious when visiting healthcare providers. Patients should feel like they are on a team with their provider, working together to find a solution. This all seems wonderful so ... how do we build rapport?

There are many ways in which a provider can start building rapport. In this blog, I’ll go over some tricks and tips that the Rehab Robotics Lab has found useful over the years!

First up, let's start with some general things to keep in mind.

1. Presentation. It is important to present oneself professionally but also in a welcoming way. This can be achieved through simple actions such as making eye contact and smiling at the patient. Body language can easily change how someone perceives you. For example, someone with crossed arms will seem more closed off than someone with arms by their side. As a clinician, you should present yourself as attentive, empathetic, and caring to build a solid rapport with your patient.

2. Ensure understanding. To support a patient, it is vital to understand their concerns and involve them in the decision making process for their treatment. However, medical jargon may overwhelm and confuse a patient, especially if they are in an already vulnerable situation. To avoid this, we suggest using layman’s terms for simplicity. This ensures the patient understands what is happening and will help build trust between them and their clinician.

3. Creating a safe environment. This is one of the most essential steps of the rapport process. The patient should feel like they can speak about their concerns without judgement. This can be done by letting the patient know you a little better - not just as their healthcare professional, but as a person. Make jokes when appropriate and engage in casual conversation at the beginning of the appointment. You want to appear professional, but also let them know you are a person too.

Now that we have established some general rapport rules, let’s take a closer look at some special cases that may require some additional knowledge.

Here's how to build rapport with a multidisciplinary team:

1. Proper communication. A multidisciplinary team has many great advantages but may seem intimidating for patients to share intimate health issues with multiple providers. Communicating effectively between each provider will ensure everyone is on track with the patient’s progress. If the providers do not work collaboratively, it will make them seem chaotic, disorganized, and the patient may not feel properly taken care of.

2. Mindfulness. Be mindful of the patient’s time - ask them if they would like one meeting with the entire team to save time or if multiple appointments would work best.

3. Consider the patient. Last but not least, be aware that the patient may feel overwhelmed by the amount of providers, and provide extra reassurance throughout the appointment. Remember, it's their health you're all there to support!

Here are a few tips to building rapport when working with interpreters:

1. Smooth conversations. Working with interpreters poses a few challenges, including ensuring correct translation. When a patient does not give the answer a healthcare provider was looking for, the healthcare provider should restate, reword, or ask follow up questions. To keep the flow, nonverbal communication can be utilized in the form of body language and common gestures. Additionally, learning some key phrases from the patient’s language may make the patient feel more comfortable.

2. Focusing attention. Being attentive when working with an interpreter is slightly different from when directly communicating with a patient. It is important for healthcare professionals to know where they should be focusing their attention - the interpreter, or the patient? Healthcare providers should engage with patients when they are talking, then may focus their attention between the interpreter and patient when the interpreter is speaking.

3. Set the environment. One last thing to remember when working with an interpreter is that patients may not feel comfortable communicating their needs through an interpreter. Some information is sensitive and it may take time for the patient to speak up. In the meantime, healthcare providers should focus on setting a welcoming and reassuring environment.

Finally, and maybe most importantly for our work, here's how to build rapport virtually:

1. Be personable. Tele-Rehab 2.0 enables providers to connect with patients virtually, and we know building rapport can be challenging at times. Luckily, we have figured out methods that help bring a little humanity to all the supporting technology. Just as with building rapport in-person, we want to ensure that a welcoming environment is established. This can be achieved through making jokes and being personable to enhance facial expressions. It might even be necessary to “over act” so that the patient feels that they are in the same room as their provider.

2. Device etiquette. Devices may seem like a barrier to many patients, so knowing how to engage in a virtual setting is vital. We suggest placing devices at an angle that make it seem that you and the patient are sitting across the table from each other. This creates some familiarity from an in-person environment. Most importantly - don’t get distracted by your phone! Make sure your investment into the client is the same as it would be in person.

3. Use technology to your advantage. With Tele-Rehab, we use our tele-presence robot during virtual sessions to make it feel like we are right alongside our patients. Unlike most stationary video communication devices, our robot can move around and follow our patients throughout the assessment. This ensures fluid transitions while completing the assessment without awkward camera angle changes. It is almost as if the patient and client get to walk alongside each other, even though they may be far apart. We have also found that our patients treat the robot as an autonomous being (likely due to anthropomorphizing!). The robot is set at a height similar to a seated person, so that the clinician’s face is at a similar eye level to their patient. This creates the effect of talking to someone, instead of talking through an electronic device.

Although rapport may seem like a challenging and lengthy process, it is a vital part of providing healthcare, whether face-to-face or virtually. Creating safe spaces should be a main priority in the healthcare field, which is why we hope our tips and tricks help you understand rapport a little better. Good luck out there!

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