Less time doesn't have to mean less patient-centered care.
As a member of a care team, your communication skills are (hopefully) good enough to establish relationships with the patients that visit your office. But, like most doctors and care teams, you have more restraints on your schedule than ever before. As you tighten up, the thing that you let slip first may be communication.
With connected relationships and patient satisfaction being such critical contributors to a successful practice, this is a sacrifice you can’t afford to make.
Below are some tips for improving point-of-care communication. They can be used in any practice, though we’ve included extra tips for maximizing the Solutionreach tools that are at your fingertips to personalize your communication even further.
Remember what they say about a first impression.
How many times have you walked into an appointment, simply to have the staff member behind the desk holding a phone to his or her head or involved in a conversation? Sometimes they hand a clipboard across the counter, illustrating with a hand gesture that you should sit down and fill it out. Other times, you just stand and wait until it’s your turn. Do you feel engaged with? Do they even look you in the eye? Make a habit of implementing the following habits:
- Greet patients warmly when they come in.
If you or your team happen to be on a call, make a practice of placing the caller on hold for a moment to welcome the patient. Ask about their well-being, and that of their family. Invite them to make themselves comfortable. Above all, make eye contact and smile.
- Watch the interactions.
If you are the doctor, take a moment to pay attention to the interactions your staff is having with patients when they come in the door. Is your staff friendly? Do they smile and make eye contact? When hiring your care team, don’t underestimate the power of a friendly face and easy conversation. Your patients will notice, if you don’t!
*Solutionreach Tip: Recognize them.
Every patient that is on your schedule will show up right in your dashboard, including their headshot. Make a practice of snapping their photo (or letting them take their own via PatientReach Tablet when they check themselves in) so that you know who is coming in, and what they look like.
*Solutionreach Tip: Notice their family.
The Action List screen will give you details on upcoming appointments for their family members. This is a great way to ask about the health of their partner or children, which is a great tool for personalizing relationships.
*Solutionreach Tip: Thank them.
Solutionreach will also indicate if your patient has sent a referral your way or filled out an on-demand survey (automated surveys won’t appear here.) Even if you aren’t incentivizing these actions, a genuine “Thank you for taking the time” will go a long way, and show them that you are paying attention.
*Solutionreach Tip: Be helpful.
Does the patient already have the PatientReach Mobile app? Are they using it?
Are they signed up for your portal? Do they know how to use it? Have they lost their password?
Are they signed up for any of your educational campaigns?
There is a lot you can do point-of-care to show them what tools you have for improving your relationship outside of the office.
Don’t forget the second first-impression.
The front desk staff has offered initial pleasantries, but that doesn’t negate your need to greet patients when you walk into the exam room.
“One thing that’s very important is how you enter a room,” Wolff says. Even with time at a premium, walk into the exam room with a smile, shake the patient’s hand, call the patient by name (first name or surname, whichever the patient prefers), and sit down. “Sitting down places the doctor at eye level or below eye level,” Wolff says. “This relaxes the patient so that he or she will communicate more openly.”
- Make eye contact.
- Shake their hand.
- Tell them that it is nice to see them again, or that it is nice to meet them (know before you go in, don’t guess based on whether or not you recognize them.)
- Ask them how they have been and how their family is doing.
- For an extra touch, mention something about yourself. You just got back from vacation and the weather adjustment is no fun, you just got back from trying a great no lunch spot down the street, you just had a baby and you’re sleep deprived. It doesn’t have to be important, it just needs to remind them that you are a human–and not just a clinician.
Don’t treat them like a clinician.
Remember that class in college, where the professor was completely unable to dumb things down? She spoke to her students as if they were equally knowledgeable, skimming past the explanations, using terms you hadn’t yet learned and concepts you didn’t yet grasp.
Don’t be that doctor! The moment a patient feels stupid is the moment they stop gaining anything from the appointment. The result? Patients that fail to follow treatment or preventative plans, avoid coming in, and switch to a new doctor when the opportunity presents itself.
- Acknowledge complexities.
“It’s a lot to take in, I know. Don’t feel like you have to understand everything right now.”
This doesn’t just apply to complicated diagnoses, treatments, or prevention plans; it can easily be something as simple as how to brush their toddler’s teeth or what symptoms to look out for after switching to a new medication.
If you alleviate their concern about feeling ignorant and embarrassed, they are much more likely to divulge confusion or need for more direction.
- Tell them to interrupt.
We are taught not to interrupt as a basic rule of etiquette, so tell them before you begin talking that they can feel free to jump in. If they hold questions until the end, the clarification that they needed in order to solidify the information in their minds has already been forgotten.
- Pay attention.
Try to monitor their level of understanding by watching their body language and asking questions throughout. If they seem confused, back up.
Give them the opportunity to think about it.
Nine times out of ten, we know exactly how we should respond or what we should ask; but the realization doesn’t ever seem to strike us until after the conversation is long over.
Remember that your patients often need time to digest what you are saying. They may grasp general concepts, but once it sinks in other questions or thoughts may arise. Something that they didn’t think to mention may very well be an important factor in their care moving forward. so take steps to prevent radio silence on both parts after the appointment (when the right things to say finally occur to them.)
- Tell them to think about it and then reach out to you.
Invite them to email your office when questions arise, not if they arise. When you breezily let patients know that they can call your office if they have questions, it’s all-but-assumed that they will end up leaving a voice message and an assistant that they have never met before will call them back.
By inviting them to email you when they think of concerns, the engagement becomes more personal–even though it will probably be the same assistant returning the correspondence.
*Solutionreach Tip: If you are using PatientReach Mobile in your practice, the patient can send a HIPAA secure text-message any time and your staff can respond with a text via Solutionreach.
- Offer additional education.
If brochures are your preferred method of distributing educational material, be sure to tell them that you are happy to explain any confusion after they have read through it.
*Solutionreach Tip: Because of your ability to group patients via criteria-based filters, you can let patients know that they can receive one or a series of educational emails regarding their treatment or concern. Rather than sending them off to investigate their questions by asking the Internet, giving them valuable, reliable tools to educate themselves at their leisure is a good way to show them you care about their well-being (and avoid more problems caused by misinformation.)
Don’t let them just walk out the door.
This is where practices often fail to solidify the connection that may have been established during the appointment. Unless they have to schedule another appointment or make a payment, patients walk out of the exam room and straight out the door without a word.
- Make it standard procedure to say goodbye to patients after the appointment.
Don’t leave them hanging. If you walk out to have a nurse bring in a prescription, stop back in and say goodbye.
- Don’t let them just walk out.
When patients are leaving, the front desk staff should stop, look up, and ask them how their appointment went.
*Solutionreach Tip: If you are using automated post-appointment surveys, tell them to watch for it in their email inbox and invite them to be honest so that you can be sure they are receiving the best care possible.
*Solutionreach Tip: Because you can tailor your Solutionreach surveys, consider asking a question or two about the quality of their communication and understanding. You can also ask them if they would like to receive a follow-up call, or if they would like you to send them more information.
By setting an alert within Solutionreach to notify you when patients respond with ‘Yes’ to this question, you immediately know when patients have a concern or need further communication.
Being pressed for time doesn’t mean that you have to lose the connection that will not only keep your patients coming back, but help them stay healthy. For a more comprehensive list of tips for improving your patient communication while patients are in the office, take a look at this article Improving Patient Communication in No Time.
*Remember that we are here to help you! Unlimited training and support are included with your service, so if you would like to train your front desk staff on any of the tricks discussed in this post, please call in and talk with your Client Success Representatives.
Not a Solutionreach user, but want to learn more about how the platform will help you revolutionize your patient communication and improve your patient relationships? Take a demo and see it in action!