Career advice

How to work collaboratively with patients

Mandy-Day Calder explains how to develop a genuinely collaborative relationship with patients

Healthcare is moving away from ‘professionals knows best’ to a more person-centred model.

An initial step towards a person-centred model of care is to view
patients as 'experts on themselves'        Picture: iStock

In some parts of the country there is a shift towards a new clinical approach, that of ‘realistic medicine’, where patients are fully informed and take an active role in all decisions surrounding their care and treatment.

This is a big change for patients to get used to and necessitates a new way of working for healthcare staff: putting patients at the centre of their own care and involving them at all stages.

It is easy, especially in the middle of a busy 12-hour shift, to assume you know what your patients’ needs and wishes are, but how often do you check? 

Sometimes as nurses we are guilty of telling our patients what to do, yet collaboration involves working together towards an agreed plan, so it is essential that you involve your patients in setting aims for their care.


This may appear time-consuming, but it often involves just simple changes in your mindset, the way you communicate and the language you use.

A good initial step to take is to start viewing your patients as the experts. Though they may not have in-depth medical knowledge, they do know how their health is affected and what is important to them.

Motivational interviewing is now a well-established style of conversation, commonly used to elicit healthy behavioural changes.

However, there are four principles (known collectively as RULE) that can be used in any healthcare situation and will help to promote a more collaborative approach.

RULE principles
  • Resist the ‘righting reflex’: as a nurse it is natural that you want to help your patients and be sure that they have the best treatment possible, but be careful not to influence patients with your own opinions.
  • Understand your patients’ motivations: a motivated patient is more likely to be proactive and take control of their health. As humans, we all place value on different things, so use open-ended and non-judgemental questions to engage with your patients.
  • Listen: listening is actually an active process and involves focusing on what your patient is saying as well as how they are saying it and what is being left out of the story.
  • Empower: your role is to offer guidance and information, yet it is also to provide space for your patient to decide what is best for them. 


Mandy Day-Calder is a freelance writer and life/health coach

This article is for subscribers only