Jobstacles: How to Make a Good First Impression on a Patient

Clinician speaking with patient in exam room.

When you work in healthcare, meeting new people is a regular part of the job. This is where you create the provider-patient relationship: You want your patients to like you, and you need them to trust you.

As a healthcare provider, you have to make first impressions often—sometimes on a daily basis. The new patient introduction is more complicated than just a handshake and a hello because the person you’re meeting is in a vulnerable position. They may be stressed or even fearful—an actual diagnosis for this is “White Coat Syndrome,” in which the patient has developed physical symptoms like high blood pressure in a healthcare setting.

Meeting your patient for the first time is your opportunity to set the tone that will inform every interaction that follows, whether you’re a physician assistant, an occupational therapist, or a nurse practitioner. When done right, you can put your patient at ease, earn their trust, and open a healthy line of communication that is essential for adherence to treatment plans and improved patient outcomes.

Here are some best practices for a patient introduction:

1. Respect Their Time

Wait time is consistently a top concern for patients in satisfaction surveys. Of course, you can’t always control for this, but you can make sure you actively consider your patient’s time during your interaction with them.

This means efficiency during the actual consultation, examination, or treatment of your patient, so your patient isn’t there any longer than necessary and others do not have to wait longer than needed. This also means allowing ample time to explain treatments, hear concerns, and answer questions, so your patient feels they have your full and unrushed attention.

If your clinic, hospital, or office is busy and a longer patient wait time is inevitable, do what you can to manage expectations. One easy way to do this is at check-in—see if the receptionist is able to give patients an approximation of how long until they’ll be seen. You can also make quick contact with the patient yourself to show that you know they’re waiting and you’ll be with them as soon as you can.

2. Be Intentional in the Meet and Greet

Once you’re able to meet your patient, be methodical in your introduction. Make sure you’re the one who initiates the introduction, and do it as soon as you walk in the room. Take charge of the interaction immediately, and personalize yourself with your name and your role.

In introducing yourself, it’s important to know your social signals: eye contact, facial expression, speech, and space. Let’s go through these one by one:

  • Eye Contact: Meet your patient’s eyes right away. Direct eye contact demonstrates that you’re confident and you’re paying attention to your patient. It shows your patient that you see them, and that’s what they’re there for.
  • Facial Expression: Don’t hesitate to smile at your patient. Patients, particularly those who have a concerning condition, are trying to read you for worrisome cues. Keep your expression warm, calm, sincere, and reassuring.
  • Speech: How you speak to a patient says as much about you as what you say. Speak politely, clearly, and with empathy. Use Mr., Mrs., Ms., or if you aren’t sure of someone’s pronouns, you can use a first name. This bit of provider-patient etiquette might seem formal, but a small sign of respect can be meaningful to a patient who feels vulnerable.
  • Space: Even though providing healthcare often requires you to get up close and personal with your patient’s body, during your introduction, give them some room. Personal space has been studied—it’s called proxemics—and it varies culturally, but a good rule of thumb is to give your patient at least an arm’s length of personal space while you’re getting acquainted.

Making sure you are mindful of your social signals during an introduction will go a long way toward creating and maintaining the right impression with your patient. Over time, it will become second nature—part of your muscle memory.

3. Come Prepared to Care

Check the chart or file before you walk in the room. A patient will trust you more if they believe you’ve already been briefed on their needs. Show the patient that you know why they’re there, and explain to them what they can expect. Knowing information and giving the patient some agency over what happens next will help them feel secure and empowered.

Make sure you have everything you need with you, and as you come to the end of the appointment, explain what will happen next. Invite the patient to ask questions—make it a two-way conversation—and ask them if there’s anything they need.

Remember: Your departure is almost as important as your introduction. Don’t rush your exit. Before you leave the room and complete your first interaction, thank the patient by name. If you’ll be seeing this patient again in the future, you have laid a solid foundation for trust and comfort. And if another healthcare provider will be taking it from here, you’re leaving your patient with a solid plan for ongoing continuity of care.

4. Make a Follow-up Call

One gesture that can help you stand out from other providers is a personal follow-up to your patient’s first appointment. A call, email, or message via your patient portal or clinical management system will show the patient that your concern for their health extends beyond the confines of your office or clinic.

You can do this even if there’s no new information to relay. Your follow-up communication can be as simple as an invitation to stay in touch with questions, or an inquiry about progress.

Another benefit of the follow-up is that it creates continuity between visits. This has dual benefits: It encourages patient compliance with instructions for better patient outcomes—and for private practice or healthcare business owners, it reinforces your value as a business and may differentiate you from other providers.

Since a follow-up call is low- or no-cost, it’s both a smart and considerate improvement you can make to your patient’s experience.

In summary: You want to create a first patient experience that is respectful, open, and professional. Adhere to these guidelines during your introduction to a patient and you’ll not only make a positive and professional impression, you’ll also lay the groundwork for a healthy provider-patient relationship going forward.

WCU provides career guidance and assistance but cannot guarantee employment. The views and opinions expressed are those of the individuals and do not necessarily reflect the beliefs or position of the school or of any instructor or student.