Rebecca Winderman, MD: Doctor-Patient Relationships

February 12, 2020
Kevin Kunzmann

A pediatric gastroenterologist shares insight into building a strong trust with both patients and their families.

Rebecca Winderman, MD

This week’s #DocTalk #SoMeDocs tweet chat focused on a topic impacting every person in healthcare: the physician-patient relationship. What does a strong line of communication look like? What sort of hurdles do caregivers face in reaching their patients? How does the internet influence patient trust?

So many factors influence the outcome of a doctor-patient exchange—and it’s often just those 15 minutes that a doctor has to influence their patient for months at a time. It’s critical to have confidence in establishing a connection.

In an interview with HCPLive®, chat moderator Rebecca Winderman, MD, Director of Pediatric Gastroenterology at Jamaica Hospital Medical Center in Queens, NY, shared her experiences in building trust with patients, some of her go-to practices to help establish trust

HCPLive: How critical is physician-patient communication—especially in family medicine and pediatrics?

Winderman: Communication is crucial in building trust and a meaningful connection between a patient and their physician—even more so in pediatrics where I find I have 2 patients: the child and the parent. And both have nuances in how their needs can be met.

In my experience, I am best able to promote a trusting relationship when I err on the side of an overwhelming amount of over-communication. It’s true of every relationship we enter into in our lives, but even more so when it comes to entrusting a physician with our health.

HCPLive: How has your strategy to connect with patients evolved over time? What did you have to learn from real practice?

Winderman: For me, connecting with patients has always been strong suit of mine. I would say that my biggest weakness lies in how deeply I am moved by my patients experiences and their journey towards health; in how I connect with a parent and engage in their fears; in how I look at each child as my own.

I give patients my cell phone number. Not a work cell—my personal cell. The one my mom calls me on, the one I use as my morning alarm and the one on which I can be reached at any time on any day. My colleagues think I am crazy, but somehow I sleep better knowing my sick patients can contact me. I would rather know at an inconvenient time than find out I didn’t know at a more convenient time.

I probably have a lot to learn about this but for now it’s my truth and the only way I know how.

HCPLive: What outside factors can most influence a patient’s trust of their physician? How do you address those issues?

Winderman: In my experience, it has been the overwhelming amount of health information which has become available online, in the media and through advertisements.

The problem for anyone outside of the medical field arises in trying to decipher what information is credible and evidence-based versus anecdotal or backed by payer incentives. I have experienced both the good and the bad come out of this new era of endless information. On the one hand, connecting to patients with misinformation can breakdown trust between a physician and patient but the opposite is also true.

Patients who come well-informed and prepared to have meaningful and open-minded dialogue lends itself to a more meaningful connection.

HCPLive: Do you have any examples of when a strong line of communication significantly benefitted you and a patient?

Winderman: Absolutely! I see it all of the time! I try best I can to be intentional with my patients during their visit. To listen and not interrupt them. To hear their concerns and try to understand their needs. When I can accomplish this, I am able to communicate and connect in a way that ultimately meets those needs.

I gauge how well I have accomplished this mostly in my follow-up appointments, as well as the communication that may take place in between visits. If I have done my job correctly, then I find patients feel empowered, knowledgeable and equipped to engage in improving their health. When this takes place, we all benefit. We all win.