As doctors, when you are used to meeting many returning patients in a day, it is very possible to overlook the importance of making a good first impression on patients who are new.In a healthcare setting, this first impression can have significant impact on future relationships and interactions between doctors and their patients.

Here are a few things that you should know about the first impression, as a doctor:

1. First impression is not just about physical, obvious traits

Contrary to what many people think, the first impression does not only concern physical traits that are obvious to others, such as your appearance. People will also form judgments about you in communications that are not necessarily face-to-face. The way you talk on the phone, or the language that you use when replying to an email are things that are factored in when people form an opinion about you.

During face-to-face interaction, eye-contact is important. Other aspects that would help create a good impression include your humility, willingness to apologise when you make mistakes and your initiative to go the extra mile in helping patients.

2. It is the key to building a long-lasting professional relationship

Many patients do not visit the doctor’s office with the intention of going “doctor shopping”. A lot of patients feel that it is more convenient to stick with a good doctor instead of going from door to door until they find a doctor that provides satisfactory service. The first impression is an important factor in building a long-lasting professional relationship between doctors and patients. The strength and continuity of this doctor-patient relationship is one of the important foundations in providing good overall healthcare services.

3. A bad impression is not easy to change

An online study found that people are quick to judge a bad behaviour but it takes a longer time to be convinced that you have improved once you have changed that negative behaviour. As the authors of this study stated, “It is apparently easier to be a sinner than a saint, despite exhibiting equivalent evidence for change.” [1] Once your patients or colleagues have formed a negative opinion about you during the first encounter, they would have certain prejudices towards you in the future and this may not be healthy for your future interaction with one another. Even worse, they might share this opinion with others, which in turn would influence other people’s judgments towards you as well.

You only get one chance to make a good impression. Sincerity in making your first impression is important. Some people think that this can be faked, but this would definitely not last in the long run. “Fake it till you make it” most definitely does not apply here. Remember that there is a difference between doing certain things only for the sake of making yourself likeable, and portraying a genuine impression to create a pleasant atmosphere, thus naturally gaining the trust and confidence of others. MIMS

Read more:
7 ways to build a productive doctor-patient relationship
Do obese doctors seem less trustworthy in their patients’ eyes?
Doctors: How long do you interview your patients?

[1] Advisory Board. “Why it’s so tough to change a bad first impression”. August 17, 2016. <>