Dr. Timothy Poulton offers prescription for improving physician-patient relationships

Dr. Timothy Poulton of The IHE.Faculty member Timothy Poulton, M.D., makes the case that “patient engagement is the road to improved efficiency, quality, safety and financial stability” in the August 18, 2016, online edition of Hospitals & Health Networks.

“Organizational culture determines how health care providers interact with one another and their patients,” Dr. Poulton explains. “More and more physicians are losing the ability to be present in their work, foster meaningful conversations and navigate emotional challenges.”

In the article, he examines five skills physicians can employ to restore relationships in their healthcare practices. “These skills apply wonderfully to patient encounters as well as to interactions between co-workers, friends and family,” emphasizes Dr. Poulton. “At their essence, they are familiar to all but may need some nurturing. They are skills that can be learned, practiced and mastered by anyone.”

Dr. Poulton’s insightful solutions to connecting with patients can go a long way toward improving perceptions, strengthening relationships, and shifting organizational culture. And that can lead to improvements in quality, safety, efficiency and patient experience.

About Timothy Poulton, M.D.

Timothy Poulton is a Family Medicine physician with Mission Medical Associates, part of the Mission Health System in Asheville, North Carolina. An active member of the faculty for the Communication in Healthcare and Relationship Centered Leadership courses for the Mission Health System, Dr. Poulton enjoys family medicine because it allows him to establish strong, long-term relationships that can span multiple generations. He believes in leveraging patient-centered care and communication in partnering with patients to develop a long-term plan for health and wellness. Dr. Poulton is also an active faculty member at PRC’s Institute for Healthcare Excellence, where he is instrumental in teaching the Communication in Healthcare curriculum.

Are patients “customers”?

There’s a growing movement in medicine to start thinking of patients as customers and to develop a customer satisfaction mentality in medical practices and hospitals. William Maples, M.D., Executive Director and Chief Experience Officer for The Institute for Healthcare Excellence, gives us his input on the advantages and disadvantages of this shift in mindset.

Thinking of patients as customers enables a shift to true patient-centered care where physicians and clinical teams define and execute care plans to restore health with their patients. Having a customer mindset will create an environment where we truly serve patients and meet their total needs. This includes not only medical/diagnostic but also spiritual and cultural needs. This will allow patients to buy-in to their treatment plans and improves compliance with the overall care plan.


This also leads to not only improved health, due to increased compliance, and but also eliminates needless waste from care plans that the patient doesn’t buy into. Engaging patients as partners also provides another critical set of eyes and ears, which will enhance the overall safety of care. The financial benefits are also significant and a result of increased patient loyalty and trust.

The doctor-patient relationship extends much deeper than a customer relationship, as it centers on restoring health and life. When patients come in for care they’re often in times of great need and vulnerability. The relationship between doctors and patients has a more sacred meaning and requires deep kindness, compassion, trust, and empathy. Although customers can be well served, the key elements of kindness, compassion, trust, and empathy are not essential for all customer relationships.

The customer mindset does not pollute the doctor-patient relationship, as long as they remember that the doctor-patient relationship is enveloped by kindness compassion, trust, and empathy.

Learn more about the work that Dr. Maples conducts here.

Medical Errors & Communication

As the complexity of medicine increases, there is a greater need for teams to work effectively together with the patient at the center of the team to maximize outcomes and safety. This requires a culture of trust where every member of the team feels safe to share what he/she is observing as the team navigates through a care pathway.  At the root of building this trust is effective, open, honest, and authentic communication between all members of the team.

It is estimated that up to 50% of preventable medical errors are related to a breakdown in communication, and in particular the first step of effective communication which is mindfulness/presence.  The key to decreasing preventable medical errors is to build a culture of safety which is rooted in effective, authentic, and compassionate communication. Get started today and contact us to see how we can work together to improve healthcare in America.