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Does Patient Trust in Clinicians Improve Patient Satisfaction?

Although patient trust in clinicians has little effect on health metrics, it has a significant impact on patient perceptions of care and patient satisfaction.

Patient trust in clinicians leads to better patient satisfaction levels.

Source: Thinkstock

By Sara Heath

- Patients who have more trust in their clinicians have better perceptions about the quality of the care they received and have higher patient satisfaction levels, according to a study published in the journal PLOS One.

In the age of patient-centered and value-based care, healthcare professionals have been hearing calls for more empathetic care that will instill better trust from their patients. Fostering a trusting patient-provider relationship has been lauded as a core tenet in better healthcare.

“Patients have to trust their health care professionals to work in their best interest and outcome,” the research team explained. “In this regard, trust in the health care professional has been suggested to be the foundation for effective treatments and fundamental for patient-centered care.”

But to what extent does a patient’s trust in his or her provider drive positive clinical outcomes? Does patient trust truly lead to a higher quality care experience?

Patient trust only leads to more positive perceptions of care, the research team stressed, and not necessarily improved health metrics.

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In a literature review of 47 qualitative analyses of the association between patient trust and clinical outcomes, the researchers found a small to moderate correlation between the two principles. However, the researchers identified some differences when breaking down various aspects of clinical outcomes.

There was no correlation between patient trust and objective clinical metrics, the researchers found. Additionally, there was no correlation between patient trust and observer-reported outcomes measures.

Even so, there were at least moderate associations between patient trust and patient perceptions of care. There was a 0.3 correlation between patient trust and patient-reported outcomes, or a subjective review of clinical outcomes. There was also a notable correlation between trust and healthy behaviors, quality of life, and symptom severity.

There was a larger correlation between patient trust and patient satisfaction, the research team observed.

Overall, this indicates that a trusting patient-provider relationship makes patients believe they are receiving better care. Patients report better health outcomes, quality of life, symptom severity, and satisfaction levels. However, patients who trust their providers are not necessarily experiencing objectively better clinical metrics.

READ MORE: Why Patient Satisfaction is More Than “Making Patients Happy”

Although patients who trust their providers do not always see higher clinical outcomes, this should not take away from the benefits of a trusting patient-provider relationship, the researchers said. Patient perceptions of their own care is still an important aspect of patient engagement and satisfaction, and it should be noted that trust plays a critical role in creating a better experience.

“We observed a significant correlation between trust and self-rated subjective outcomes, which in turn have been associated with objective outcomes,” the researchers said. “Therefore, it could be argued that a possible association between trust and objective outcomes depends on trust-sensitive subjective variables, such as adherence to medication or patient satisfaction with treatment.”

“These findings substantiate the asserted fundamental role of patients’ trust in the context of patient-centered care,” the researchers added.

Going forward, more research should go into understanding the relationship between patient trust and clinical outcomes measures, the researchers stated. Investigations should focus on stark positive or negative effects of patient trust on the clinical encounter, ultimately developing more guidelines on how to improve patient-centered care.

However, the current study’s findings do indicate a path forward, the research team pointed out. Creating a trusting relationship between patient and providers is not only an ethically sound practice, but also one that has the power to improve overall patient care.

READ MORE: Patient Satisfaction Becomes Critical Concern for Hospitals

“Although further studies are required to test the direction of the association between trust and health outcome, trust in the health care professional may not only be a deontological constituent of clinical care, but it might also be consequential for patients’ treatment satisfaction, health behaviors, symptom severity and quality of life.”

Previous research has also indicated the importance of good interpersonal skills on the patient-provider relationship. Provider empathy, for example, is a critical skill for improving patient satisfaction.

One study from the Massachusetts General Hospital department of orthopedic surgery found that 65 percent of patient satisfaction is tied to provider empathy. Providers who do not relate to their patients on a personal level and do not display a meaningful level of empathy are less likely to receive high patient satisfaction scores than their more empathetic peers.

As the healthcare industry continues to value patient satisfaction and emphasize the importance of a positive patient experience, it will be critical for providers to understand both the clinical and interpersonal qualities necessary for fostering better patient satisfaction.

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