We recently highlighted a story shared by Solutionreach employee Sean Sturges relating the difficulties his family experienced during the health struggles of his mother.
He explained, “My mother was diagnosed with Parkinson's Disease when I was a teenager. With the diagnosis came the pain and shaking, constant doctor visits, medication after medication, and the relentless search for some kind of solution.”
“The worst part for my family was the disconnect between her and her doctors between visits. She wouldn't remember much of what they said, and we never got anything tangible from them offering options or possible answers. Even just updates on research and treatment would have been enough to give us hope and support.”
Unfortunately, that support never came. Sean and his family were left adrift on the patient “island,” feeling alone and forgotten. His mother passed away without Sean ever receiving the emotional connection to her medical professionals that he wanted.
Sean, like far-too-many patients, lamented one of the all-too-easily-forgotten (but critical) elements of modern healthcare. Compassion.
Compassion is the “Secret Sauce” of Patient Satisfaction
Compassion is not just a requirement for end-of-life patients, but for all who pass through your doors. Think of the child visiting the eye doctor for the first time. The mother afraid of going to the dentist. The elderly scheduling a surgery. All are in need of compassion. In an era where one in three patients are likely to switch practices in the next few years, compassion is a key piece of what may make them stay.
So what does compassion-based care look like? One patient described it well, saying, “They (the practice staff) stop and listen, they establish a relationship and get to know who you are, they get to know me as a person and vice versa.” Compassion is founded upon real relationships.
Compassion Pays Dividends…If You Do it Right
Extensive research has found that patient-based, compassionate care is incredibly positive for both patients and healthcare practices.
Patient benefits include:
- Higher patient satisfaction
- Better patient health outcomes
In an interesting twist, the benefits of compassionate care are even greater for the practice:
- Lower stress levels and burnout for healthcare providers
- Higher job satisfaction
- Lower staff turnover
- Fewer patient complaints
- Greater patient loyalty
- Fewer malpractice suits
It seems to be a no-brainer. Unfortunately, providing compassionate care is much easier said than done.
A recent study found that just 47 percent of healthcare professionals feel like they provide true patient-based, compassionate care.
The same study noted that this trend is only getting worse—63 percent of doctors and nurses say that they’ve seen a decline in their ability to communicate with patients and provide the emotional support they need over the past five years.
A Failed Experiment
Why the disconnect? Why does something that seems so simple turn out to be so darn hard? Let’s dig in a little deeper.
Meet Kathy. Kathy is the office manager of a busy primary care practice. Her job is to make sure that everything is run perfectly—like a well-oiled machine. She wants happy patients. She wants a happy staff. She wants happy doctors. And for the most part, she is able to accomplish this.
Unfortunately, in recent months, things have not been going quite as well as she would like. She has seen an uptick in patient turnover. In addition, she is worried about the staff. While she hasn’t seen a huge turnover, her staff just seems disengaged and even burned out.
After attending a conference on the importance of patient-based, compassionate care, Kathy comes back motivated and excited to give it a try. After talking to the doctors and getting everyone on board, Kathy calls a meeting of all staff.
She asks everyone to dedicate more time to personal interactions with each patient and less time to busy work. She asks that they avoid being on the computer or phone when patients enter the office as much as possible. She also wants them to spend time learning the names of each patient (and as much about them as they can).
The doctors should spend as much time with a patient as they feel necessary, listening to their concerns. Relationships come before tasks.
The plan goes forward. Unfortunately, it quickly becomes apparent that time management is a big issue. The receptionist is unable to set up appointments and make reminder calls while still dedicating time to each patient. A line of patients waiting starts to build. People are getting grumpy because the office is behind schedule. The receptionist has to work late because she wasn’t able to get all of her reminder calls done.
After a week, Kathy worries that the whole experiment is a disaster.
In an effort to make life a little easier for the front desk staff, Kathy then decides to schedule a little more time in the day for each patient. It works! The front desk staff is able to review each patient file before the visit, greeting each new patient by name. There is no back-up among patients. Patients and front desk staff seem happier than ever.
It’s not long, however, before the doctors start to question why there isn’t as much revenue being brought in. In order to meet all the financial needs of the practice, the head physician insists that either they find a way to fit in more patients or simply stop the compassion efforts.
Kathy feels desperate.
Technology: A Practical Solution
So how are successful practices implementing compassionate, patient-based care? Through the use of technology. How can technology—seemingly the opposite of warm, human-based care, make compassion easier? Let’s break down our description of compassion from above and discuss each one by one to see how technology can relieve the burden.
“They (the practice) stop and listen, they establish a relationship and get to know who you are, they get to know me as a person and vice versa.”
“They stop and listen”
This is a seemingly easy way to provide compassion. Stop, talk, and listen. The key here is having enough time to do this for each and every patient without needing to cut back the schedule. Research shows that most doctors believe that the biggest barrier to patient engagement is the lack of time the practice staff has to offer its patients. Technology can take the place of many of the time-sucking tasks in a day.
One of the biggest time-drains for front desk personnel is setting up and reminding patients about appointments. In today’s technology age, this is a problem easily fixed. Texting is a great solution here. A practice with around 50 patients can expect to save up to two hours every day by texting reminders rather than calling. Additional technology can allow patients to set up their own appointments online. These extra hours each day will give your staff the time they need to stop and listen to patients. (Read more in The Case for Online Self-Scheduling here.)
“Establish a relationship”
You’ll hear it from every relationship professional—communication is the key to a successful relationship. Today, communication is much more than just talking face to face. In fact, texting is the most popular means of communication in the world. How can you use text to establish a relationship with your patients?
Use texting as more than just a reminder. Yes, while reminders can save you time in the office, it is through those extra little texts that you start to develop a relationship with your patients. Send a thank-you text following each visit, encouraging patients to send feedback on how everything went (just a caveat here—make sure you follow up on all feedback you receive).
Send out a text on each patient’s birthday. Is something special going on? Text your patients and invite them to come. If you haven’t seen a patient in some time, text them to let them know you’re thinking of them. Because of technology, all texting can be done automatically so that you don’t have to spend more office time on them. It is automation that still creates connection.
Who wants to be in a one-way relationship? Two-way texting is also important for emotional connection. While it’s great to send text messages from your office, it is a little lame if your patients can’t text you back. Two-way texting (with HIPAA consent options) is now possible with your own office phone number. It’s an easy way to stay in touch between visits or for anytime your patients have questions.
“Get to know me as a person and vice versa”
Once you’ve been able to save time in the office, you can focus on really getting to know people. One great way to do this outside of the office is through social media. Americans spend a crazy amount of time on social media every day (spoiler: it’s up to three hours a day!). What better place to get to know patients at a deeper level than through social media contact?
Technology + Humanity = Compassionate Care
Back to Kathy. By integrating technology into their compassion efforts, she is able to meet both the needs of the front desk and the doctors. Patients are happier, the schedule is full, and Kathy is back to business.
Want to know what to look for in a technology solution? Read our free checklist, “7 Must Have Features for a Texting Solution.”