If you asked a group of healthcare professionals why they chose to enter the field, most would say that it’s because they wanted the satisfaction of helping others. Unfortunately, that yearning to serve and heal is often lost in the bustle of real life. As a practice scrambles to meet all of the demands in a day, it is easy to slip into the “herding cattle” mode of care, simply moving patients in and out as quickly as possible.
This leads to frustration not only for doctors but for their patients as well. In fact, confidence in doctors has plummeted frighteningly in recent decades. As of 2012, just 34 percent of U.S. adults say they had “great confidence” in their healthcare professional. Compare this to 76 percent who had confidence in 1966. The numbers are not good.
Patients want to visit a practice dedicated to trust and collaboration. They want to be engaged in, and feel like a partner in, their own care. Doing so can put you head and shoulders above the typical practice. How can you start?
- Develop a Relationship. Doctors are part of a very small and select group that can ask super personal questions without it being weird. And patients actually answer! Because of this extremely intimate relationship, a special bond is formed almost instantly in an otherwise clinical setting. While these relationships are forged quickly, they are also very breakable. It is absolutely crucial that you constantly nurture that connection. What are the best ways to foster relationships with individuals you only see for a handful of minutes at a time? The simple answer is this—by staying in contact on a regular basis. All relationships require effort, the patient/practice relationship included. You would be surprised how the little things can make a big difference. Simply shooting off a “Happy Birthday” text or a customized email can go a long way. They know you’re thinking of them, and the bond is strengthened.
- Show Kindness and Compassion. Offices are busy. Things can get stressful. It’s easy to fall into the trap of being detached (or even worse, grumpy) when interacting with patients. Don’t do it! During those precious few minutes you have a patient in the office, do everything you can to treat them the way you would want to be treated. Learn the names of patients (especially regular patients!) and a little about them. When they enter the office, smile and look them in the eye. Devote all of your attention to the patient when interacting with them. Really listen to them. Don’t interrupt or rush (or look at a computer screen while they’re talking to you). See if you can get to know them better. Ask questions like a friend about things not related to the appointment. Treat the patient like a person and not just a number.
- Give Patients More Control. One of the biggest trends in healthcare is meeting the needs of ever-more engaged patients. Today’s patient wants to have more control over what happens before, during, and after an office visit. Address each of these needs individually.
- Before: Since patients are looking to learn as much as they can before they visit your office, be there to offer that information to them. Regularly send out informational newsletters and emails. Be active on social media. Find ways to educate and inform from a distance. That can seem nearly impossible to busy offices but technology can ease this burden. Many automated solutions offer access to extensive up-to-date educational materials that can provide patients with the answers they’re looking for. Take advantage of these systems.
- During: Listen to patients when they tell you what they’ve learned about their condition. Take them seriously. Did you know that the average patient is only allowed to speak for just 12 seconds before being interrupted by their healthcare professional? Respect that your patient may have good ideas while still offering your own professional diagnosis.
- After: Follow up visits by asking how things went. Listen to their feedback and implement needed changes. Again technology can help with this through automated surveys and follow up emails. Keep in contact via email, social media, and text until you see your patient in the office again.
- Offer a Digital Connection The vast majority of patients, regardless of age and gender, want to be able to connect with their practice digitally. Websites, patient portals, apps, self-scheduling, video messages, emails…the ways you can boost patient access go on and on. Fortunately, most of this can be done without a lot of work by the office. By taking advantage of automation, you can reduce the workload of your staff and still meet the growing demands of today’s modern patient.
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