Achieving a high degree of patient engagement is the goal of most patient-centered practices and clinics. To that end, healthcare companies and practices have focused on improving technology to foster communication and increase patient engagement with their healthcare providers.
Some of the most effective methods of improving patient communication and creating long-term rewards are simple things which providers and their staff can offer in the everyday operation of their practices.
By focusing on three specific concepts, suggested and outlined by Dr. Daniel O’Connell, a clinical psychologist, healthcare providers can significantly improve communication and engagement with their patients on a day-to-day basis. Here they are:
“Invest in the beginning.” Taking a few moments with staff at the start of the day to review the schedule, become familiar with the patients for that day, and to prepare a brief statement about what each patient is being seen for that day helps to create a level of comfort and familiarity with patient and reassures patients that providers are interested in them as people. A quick review of each patient’s file can remind providers of the name that patient prefers to go by, building on the familiarity and instantly increasing ease of communication.
Even prior to the day of the appointment, the opportunity exists to build communication and foster positive engagement. When patients schedule an appointment, providers can offer educational information that will help the patient be better prepared for the time of the appointment. Information can be sent to the home, via email, or even through a patient portal if one has been established. Patients should be encouraged to review the materials and to come to the appointment prepared with questions.
Many patients experience mild to moderate anxiety over healthcare visits, and providing detailed information and instruction before hand can help to minimize their discomfort and improve communication.
“Empathize and elicit concerns, questions, and requests.” Once a patient arrives, providers should introduce themselves to everyone in the room. “If there is a family member, they are there for a reason and shouldn’t be ignored,” he says. If you’ve known the patient for a while, a few social comments can go a long way. “This goes beyond familiarity; it also gives a sense that we are building an agenda—together—for this visit.”
To show the value of their patient relationships, successful providers train themselves to look at things from the patient’s perspective.
Expressing empathy throughout the visit creates an empathic environment and helps set the stage for getting to the heart of the patient’s visit and figuring out what they want from the provider. Understanding the patient’s expectations is essential to a successful appointment. “If you ask patients how they hope you can be of help, you’re not deferring responsibility—you’re partnering with the patient,” Dr. O’Connell says. This builds trust and further opens the lines of communication which improves outcomes overall.
“Invest in the end.” Relatively simple and straightforward touches at the end of the visit are a large part of what patients will remember. Providing printed copies of information and additional resources, or offering to send them through email or the patient portal, are valuable and simple ways of demonstrating commitment and communication. “Deliver less—but more focused—information, and provide enduring material for the patient to access later and share with others who may be involved in their care,” Dr. O’Connell recommends. Of course, follow up quickly with anything that might cause the patient concern or undue worry.
Also use patient surveys to determine if your strategy worked, where it could be improved, and where staff and providers are doing well. Surveys show that providers are open to patient feedback and that they care about the patient experience. They are also an opportunity for further communication with patients who may have lingering questions or want additional information.
While there are numerous office management and patient relationship management platforms available, it is ultimately incumbent on providers to ensure that they, and their staff, are the front line of communication with patients. With just a few simple steps, supported by a quality patient relationship management platform, healthcare delivery, communication, patient relationships and outcomes can be improved dramatically.
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