Forming a relationship with patients seems to be very trendy with all the major clinics and hospitals these days.

After all, patients who form relationships with their providers tend to show up more often, refer others, and ultimately return for future care.

But, so many practitioners find themselves trapped between a rock and a hard place. How can they possibly be expected to form relationships with their patients, when there are so many to see?

We believe that every patient deserves to have an excellent, patient-centered therapy experience — whether they’re at their big clinic or with a small independent practice.

So here are six, psychology-backed ways that you can start forming better patient relationships today that won’t break the bank or take any more time than a smile.

6 Easy Tips to Help Form Better Patient Relationships

We believe that every patient deserves to have an excellent, patient-centered therapy experience — whether they’re at their big clinic or with a small independent practice.

So here are six, psychology-backed ways that you can start forming better patient relationships today that won’t break the bank or take any more time than a smile.

Patient Experience Booster #1:
Say Your Patient’s Name — As Often As Possible!

It should come as no surprise to learn that people like it when other people say their name.

But did you know that saying someone’s name actually helps memory retention?

Our subconscious is constantly listening for certain clues that something’s important enough to store in our memory. (1)

A name — their name — is a major flag that tells a patient’s mind that this information actually involves them, and so they automatically pay more attention. (2)

But don’t just stop with saying it once! You can use a patient’s name naturally — not creepily — throughout their entire program.

  • Try to memorize their name before intake. Learning someone’s name before you meet them actually increases your chances of remembering it later! (3)
  • Display their name in the clinic, so they know they’re expected and welcome.
  • Write their name on any physical materials they’re given. Even just putting their name on a folder or brochure makes them feel welcome.
  • When demonstrating an exercise — both during the appointment and while recording their HEPs or home exercises– make a point to say the patient’s name before you tell them a bit of customized instruction. (“Now, Taylor, because you’re tight here, you’re going to have to…”)

Patient Experience Booster #2:
Smile During Intake

Here’s another (seemingly obvious) tactic to improve your patient experience: Make a point of smiling when you first meet them!

By smiling, a patient is more likely to remember you, specifically, and start to form a connection between their care and you.

How does it work? As we mentioned before, the brain is always looking for context clues to tell it when something is important enough to remember.

As it turns out, seeing someone smile is one of those subtle pokes to your patient’s subconscious to tell them that this is someone worth remembering. (4)

Who would’ve thought that a simple smile could be so effective — even subconsciously?

Patient Experience Booster #3:
Compliment Them… Even If It’s Not True

Compliments can make just about anyone feel better about themselves, so it’s a no-brainer — ha! Get it? — to try to compliment all of your patients.

The compliment isn’t required to be true, either, to trigger the psychological pleasure released by positive recognition.

In fact, several studies have consistently found that any compliments — even about traits that the subject thought was untrue about themselves — still made participants feel better about themselves and their conversation partner. (5)

If you’re still struggling to come up with something to say about your patient, don’t force it. But, here are some easy, hard-to-mess-up ideas for you to use — depending on the context, of course.

  • “You seem happy today! Did something good happen?”
  • “Nice handshake there!”
  • “Look, see? Now I’m smiling! Your smile is contagious!”
  • “I’m proud of your progress so far.”

Patient Experience Booster #4:
Let Them Talk!

One of the ways you can prove that you understand your client’s goals and true motivation for seeking therapy?

Let them talk about themselves.

As a bonus incentive, letting patients talk about their own thoughts helps them feel good about you as their practitioner, too.

Sounds a bit bizarre, but the science seems to support that conclusion.

A total of seven studies out of the University of California tried to find the reason why people like to talk about themselves.

When they scanned the brains of participants in the study, the researchers discovered that the parts of the brain associated with motivation and rewards become much more active when they’re talking about themselves.

Not only that, but participants’ reward centers were even more stimulated when they knew that the information they were discussing was head by someone else.

The researchers concluded that humans seem to have an intrinsic need for “self-disclosure,” which the brain encourages through automatic, internal rewards. (6)

Patient Experience Booster #5:
Prove Your Privacy

Privacy seems to be an issue everywhere these days. No matter where you turn, you’ve got major brands tripping over themselves to insist that your data is secure with them.

But, do you believe them?

Probably not — because they haven’t shown themselves to be trustworthy in the past.

Relationships, too, need to have demonstrated trust and value of privacy. One study found that people valued “trustworthiness” — whether someone deserved to be trusted — and “trustingness” — how much they trust others — as the most valued qualities in important relationships.

Moreover, these qualities were most important for relationships with the “ideal” friend or employee. (7)

That makes trust doubly important for physical therapists and other healthcare providers (as if it weren’t before).

As a therapist, you have such an intimate relationship with your patient. You see others at their weakest and their most vulnerable.

Therefore, it’s imperative that you have to prove that you’re trustworthy — not just pay lip service to the idea.

Thankfully, it shouldn’t be too difficult to prove that you value your patient’s privacy.

  • Bring up how you secure medical records before a patient even mentions it. Maybe make it an understandable part of your onboarding paperwork. And no, the releases saying in medical-ese that you can talk to their doctor don’t count.
  • Find more secure, HIPAA-compliant ways to talk to your patients that aren’t so complicated that they’ll never use it. (Not to brag, but AC Health has a pretty spectacular messaging hub for video, image, and text messages — all HIPAA-compliant and protected!)
  • Avoid putting patient materials on anyone’s camera roll. Customizing HEPs with videos recorded during the session is a fantastic way to encourage patients to complete their exercises. But, should you really store that very private pelvic exercise in their regular camera roll, mixed in with selfies and pictures of grandkids?

Patient Experience Booster #6:
Tell Them Why, Not Just What

Have you heard about “tailored help”?

Basically, tailored help describes a certain type of marketing. It’s when a company offers a potential or current customer a customized, personalized experience, based on what they’re doing and going through at that moment.

Tailored help can help generate customer loyalty, which in turn helps the business more money!

In fact, the companies who actually try some form of tailored help typically see their average client “value” increase by 20% — whether that’s through referrals, more visits, or upsells. (8)

Don’t you think some increased loyalty and connection could help your clinic see your patients more often — and recommend their loved ones to come, too?

Believe it or not, physical therapists (and other providers who offer “homework” for their patients) are in an excellent position to integrate a tailored help approach into their everyday practice, with relatively little effort or extra investment.

All you have to do is tell a patient the “why,” not (just) the “what.”

Remember that subconscious, constantly looking for reasons why they should remember what’s going on?

If you connect your instructions and the patient’s progress to something that matters to them personally, then you’re giving their mind a reason to keep that knowledge and value you for it.

As it happens, the human mind specifically looks for “context” when deciding whether information is important enough to keep in long-term memory. That is, we automatically want to remember things that directly impact us or relate to a personal situation. (9)

When our subconscious hears and identifies that context, it primes the memory to retain that information as relevant, instead of letting it go in one ear and out the other.

So, psychologically? A patient will only care about their experience with you and your practice if they can connect it back to their personal lives somehow.

To do that, all you have to do is:

  1. Discover what your patient’s intrinsic — that is, personal — goal is, that they’re hoping to get out of therapy, and
    Always make sure that you’re repeating that goal while connecting it to the instruction or outcome.
  2. It will take careful listening during intake and maybe an extra question or two, but patients will tell you why they’re looking for your help.

And, if you can prove that you’ve listened to them, and that your program is tailored for their unique goal?

You’ve got a recipe for an amazing patient experience — without adding any extra time or money to your practice budget.


1. Adelbert B. The cocktail-party problem revisited: early processing and selection of multi-talker speech. Atten Percept Psychophys. 2015;77:1465-1487. doi:10.3758/s13414-015-0882-9
2. Carmody D, Lewis M. Brain Activation When Hearing One’s Own and Others’ Names. Brain Res. 2006;1116(1):153-158. doi:10.1016/j.brainres.2006.07.121
3. Gordon I, Tanaka J. Putting a Name to a Face: The Role of Name Labels in the Formation of Face Memories. J Cogn Neurosci.
4. Righi, S., Gronchi, G., Marzi, T., Rebai, M., & Viggiano, M. P. (2015). You are that smiling guy I met at the party! Socially positive signals foster memory for identities and contexts. Acta Psychologica, 159, 1–7.
5. Mae, L., Carlston, D. E., & Skowronski, J. J. (1999). Spontaneous trait transference to familiar communications: Is a little knowledge a dangerous thing? Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 77(2), 233–246.
6. Tamir, D. I., & Mitchell, J. P. (2012). Disclosing information about the self is intrinsically rewarding. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 109(21), 8038–8043.
7. COTTRELL, Catherine A., NEUBERG, Steven L., & LI, Norman P..(2007). What Do People Desire in Others? A Sociofunctional Perspective on the Importance of Different Valued Characteristics. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology,92(2), 208-231.
8. Gartner Research. 2018 State Of Personalization Report. Gartner; 2018.
9. Adelbert B. The cocktail-party problem revisited: early processing and selection of multi-talker speech. Atten Percept Psychophys. 2015;77:1465-1487. doi:10.3758/s13414-015-0882-9