Can Locum Doctors Be Trusted by Patients?

Shocking data released by the New York Times in January shows a surprising lack of trust in the medical profession. Where more than 75% of Americans had confidence in medicine in 1966, just 34% do today. Fewer than 30% trust public health leaders to be transparent and truthful while only 14% trust the government to do the right thing, in terms of the public health, most of the time.

All the numbers reflect a downward trend in the amount of trust Americans have in the medical profession. The data coincides with other research showing that people who do not trust their doctors are less likely to follow recommendations and treatment protocols. All of this leads to a very important question where locum tenens medicine is concerned: can locum doctors be trusted by their patients?

Backers of the locum industry and the doctors that populate it would obviously say yes. Critics of the locum system are likely to disagree. In the end though, it is not about what one party or the other believes. It is about how the individual doctor interacts with the individual patient. That one-on-one time is where trust is either established or lost.

Not about Employment Models

It is a mistake to believe that patients put a lot of stock in the employment model a group practice or hospital utilizes. In fact, patients often do not know that a doctor is a locum because no one ever tells them. The question of trust between physicians and their patients has nothing to do with employment models and everything to do with how people are treated.

A patient who walks away from a visit feeling as though he or she has been treated well is likely to trust the doctor who saw him/her. The opposite is also true. This suggests that the key here is understanding what patients view as being ‘treated well’ by their doctors. Consider the following:

  • Listening – Patients want doctors to actually listen to what they have to say. They know better than anyone else how they feel; they know when something isn’t right inside their bodies. Patients do not want doctors who dismiss their thoughts, questions, and suppositions as nothing more than ignorant chatter.
  • Diagnosing – Patients also want doctors capable of making a diagnosis based on common sense, knowledge, and past history. They do not want doctors who see lab tests as the be-all and end-all of diagnoses and prognosis. A doctor who relies too heavily on lab tests is a doctor who gives the impression he or she doesn’t really know what’s going on.
  • Time – Like it or not, patients are smart enough to know that proper care cannot be offered in 10-minute increments. A doctor who wants to earn the trust of patients must spend time with them. This does not necessarily make insurance companies happy, but who is more important?
  • Personal Interest – Patients say that a crucial factor in building trust is taking a personal interest in them. In other words, they are more than just names and statistics on a chart. They want doctors to ask about their families, their lives, their interests, and so forth. If an office visit is all business, patients are likely to feel as though they are nothing more than a revenue stream.

Locum tenens doctors can be trusted by their patients when they listen to them, put lab tests in their proper perspective, spend time during visits, and take a personal interest in those they see. It is no different for locums than for doctors in any other employment setting.