Physical distancing with social connectedness

David Bergman, Christina Bethell, Narangerel Gombojav, Sandra Hassink, Kurt C. Stange

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

20 Scopus citations


In light of concerns over the potential detrimental effects of declining care conti-nuity, and the need for connection between patients and health care providers, our multidisciplinary group considered the possible ways that relationships might be developed in different kinds of health care encounters. We were surprised to discover many avenues to invest in relationships, even in non-continuity consultations, and how meaningful human connections might be developed even in telehealth visits. Opportunities range from the quality of attention or the structure of the time during the visit, to supporting relationship development in how care is organized at the local or system level and in the use of digital encounters. These ways of investing in relationships can exhibit different manifestations and emphases during different kinds of visits, but most are available during all kinds of encounters. Recognizing and supporting the many ways of investing in relationships has great potential to create a positive sea change in a health care system that currently feels fragmented and depersonalized to both patients and health care clinicians. The current COVID-19 pandemic is full of opportunity to use remote communication to develop healing human relationships. What we need in a pandemic is not social distancing, but physical distancing with social connectedness.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)272-277
Number of pages6
JournalAnnals of family medicine
Issue number3
StatePublished - May 1 2020


  • COVID-19
  • Clinician-patient communication/relationship
  • Continuity of care
  • Investing in relationship
  • Primary care issues
  • Primary care issues
  • Relationship-centered care
  • Telehealth
  • Telemedicine

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Family Practice


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