Article Date: 3/1/2001

Building Trust
Many patients no longer trust their doctors. Here's how to adapt.
By Jack Runninger, O.D.

"I'm taking up a collection to help the widow Jones," said the man. "She's had a rough time of it financially lately, what with illness and losing her job. Unless she comes up with $300 rent money by tomorrow, she and her three small children will be out on the street."

"That's mighty nice of you to take this interest in helping her!" I replied. "Are you a friend of hers?"

"No, I'm her landlord."

Greed like this seems much more rampant now than ever. It appears as though you can't trust anyone anymore. As a result, people are becoming more cynical and untrusting of others, and probably rightly so.

This cynicism, together with the advent of so much advertising by healthcare professionals, has helped make your patients more leery about trusting their doctors.

What they say, but really mean

I recently read an item, "Doctors: What They Say vs. What They Mean," demonstrating patients' decreasing trust in health professionals. Below are some highlights.

Tough going

This loss of trust trend makes it tougher to practice optometry. Much of your prescribing success depends on good patient rapport and the confidence your patients have in you.

Plus, when patients lose faith in you, they generally leave you and seek another eyecare practitioner for their eye care. For example:

"I heard via the grapevine," one of my assistants told me one day, "that Mrs. Iris Bombay is announcing all over town that she took her daughter to an ophthalmologist, who told her that you'd 'sold' her a pair of glasses she didn't need, and she won't ever bring her family back to you again."

Of course, this didn't rank high on the things that make my day scale.

Illustration by Amy Wummer

Try your best

How do you overcome these obstacles and establish your patients' faith and trust in you?

"The most important factor in success is sincerity," movie mogul Sam Goldwyn said. "And the sooner you can learn to fake it, the better off you are." (That's a little attempt at humor, not a word of advice.)

After years of agonizing over people like the Bombays, I finally learned that all you can do is try gaining your patients' trust by doing the right thing as you see it.

I'd love to report that my reputation for honesty later convinced the Bombays of my integrity and that they returned as patients again. But they never did.

You can't be loved and trusted by everyone no matter how hard you try. Once you accept this fact, you won't agonize so much over those lost patients who speak ill of you. Cut your losses and just try your best. 

Jack Runninger, our consulting editor, lives in Rome, Ga. He's a past editor of Optometric Management.

Optometric Management, Issue: March 2001