Even the most experienced physicians may find that relating to their patients constructively and positively can be a challenge.

Maybe you're a doctor whose greatest strengths are academic, so you feel uncomfortable making small talk; maybe patients have told you that they have a hard time clearly understanding how you give diagnostic and treatment information.

No worries: it's surprisingly easy to rethink the way you communicate with your patients, improve your clarity and strengthen your interpersonal skill set. These science-driven strategies will help you connect much more strongly.

Follow this bedside manner checklist

The Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Provider Systems survey found that patients want their hospital physicians to interact with them on a human, and humane, level.

Many doctors don't realize that performing basic courtesies make a huge difference in terms of their patients viewing them favorably.

To make the best impression, you should:

  • Knock before entering a patient's room; close the curtain or door behind you after entering.
  • Let your patient see you are washing/sanitizing your hands.
  • Introduce any team members who are with you.
  • Sit at eye level with your patient.
  • Smile and maintain friendly eye contact.

Speak as definitively as you can

A recent study from the VA and the Baylor College of Medicine reports that the parents of pediatric patients feel very uncomfortable when doctors say they are not sure about a diagnosis, but don't explain what they mean further.

A better way to phrase an uncertain diagnosis, according to these researchers, is to say, "It could be this condition, or it could be that condition." Providing clearer possibilities gives patients and their families a better sense of understanding and control.

Then, explain in detail what testing and procedures you will perform next to confirm the diagnosis this kind of transparency boosts patient confidence tremendously.

Be tactful

Drexel University researchers report that women with higher body weights often avoid seeing doctors completely because they wish to avoid unwanted discussion of their size with biased or unintentionally insulting doctors.

Of course, if your patient has a health issue that the extra weight is exacerbating, you have to discuss it, but do so with kindness and understanding.

A simple statement like, "I understand it's hard to stay on a diet. How can I help you feel more motivated to try to lose some weight this time?" can work wonders in terms of both building a bond with your patient, and ensuring her compliance with your recommendations.

Always speak plainly

Break down any medical terms into easy-to-understand terminology — practice what you're going to say to a colleague and get his/her feedback to make sure you're being crystal clear. Ask your patients for their questions after you speak, so you can clarify any points further.

Put yourself in your patients' shoes — everyone wants to know exactly where they stand, and will appreciate your honesty and considerate simplicity.