Oldie but goodie! This post was originally published in July 2014 and updated in Jan 2018 as part of an on-going series highlighting popular past posts.
It’s one of the things you most dread hearing from your patients’ mouths...
“I already know what’s wrong with me. I "Googled" it..”
Sigh. When patients start doing web searches to answer questions they have about their health, you just never know what they will come up with. If you are the expert, why are they turning to the web to provide them with a diagnosis?
It isn’t that you don’t want to answer their questions, and it isn’t that your patients don’t want to get your advice. Rather, it comes down to accessibility. The internet is at their fingertips all the time, while getting in to discuss it with you may require a game of phone tag or even a wait time of somewhere between a couple hours and two weeks.
Improving your level of effective patient communication and the quality of the education you are providing is the answer. Here are a few ideas on ways to make it happen.
Newsletters sent digitally have more than one benefit to patient communication and education.
- It keeps you top of mind. Rather than defaulting to the internet, you’ll be the first resource they think of when they have questions.
- It’s effective. Most of us check our email all day long. If the information you provide is relevant to them, they’ll read it!
- It builds trust. The more they trust you, the less likely your patients are to believe something they find online without coming to you.
- It offers a quick and easy way for your patients to communicate with you. It’s common to forget about tasks we need to get done until we’re lying in bed, and your patients that intend to call and request an appointment or ask a question are no exception.
The ability to quickly respond to an email they receive from your office is a lot more likely to generate scheduled appointments.
2. Proactively send educational content to targeted groups of patients.
No matter how you choose to do it, you should really take steps to implement patient grouping so that you can target the content that you send in your newsletters to the patients who will benefit from it.
For example, you could create a group of female patients within a certain age group, or patients with children under a certain age. Once you have the patients grouped, you could create e-Newsletters with articles that address common issues for that age group (like questions and answers regarding Ovarian cancer detection or ideas for getting your children to brush their teeth for more than 10 seconds.)
Providing targeted information allows you to possibly side-step the need for patients to look up the addressed concerns elsewhere.
Plus, you’ll establish yourself as the resource they trust the most. When they know you are willing to answer their questions, they are less likely to ask the internet at large, instead.
For heaven’s sake, don’t make them call your office to ask a question. With a patient portal, they can send you secure messages just as quickly as they can look something up and get advice from an anonymous e-“expert”.
You can also use the patient portal to house past newsletters and educational material, so your portal becomes a resource in and of itself.
4. Offer point-of-care opportunities for education.
You may not know what group(s) best fit each patient. While they wait, give them the opportunity to select from various education campaigns (that is, a series of newsletters you’ve created for certain groups or about a specific topic.)
For example, if you have a digital check-in tool, use the ability to show them what their options are and sign up to receive the newsletters that pertain to their circumstances. If you aren’t using a digital check-in, consider including a document that lists options that they can select from. Your staff will have to manually opt patients in if you are doing it this way, but the benefit is still valuable to your patients.
5. Ask them what they want to see!
Even with targeted content to grouped patients, there is no way for you to know exactly what information your patients would like to be receiving from you. Use the automated surveys that (hopefully) go out after their appointment or send the occasional one-time patient questionnaire to ask them what information they would like to be getting from you.
Want to make start sending surveys but aren't sure how to get started? We've got you covered in our checklist "10 Steps to a Perfect Patient Survey."
Eliminate the need for your patients to trust the internet. They’ll be healthier for it, and so will your patient loyalty!