Improving Patient Communication
Here at ReminderCall.com, we witness daily how improving communication with patients dramatically improves patient satisfaction. Now studies are showing that effective communication can even improve patient outcomes. So we asked a few high-level health care professionals the following questions:
1. What is your #1 tip to improve patient communication?
2. How would you recommend that practitioners implement this in their practice?
Advice From Experts
Arlen Meyers, MD, MBA
President and CEO, Society of Physician Entrepreneurs (SoPE) at www.sopenet.org
“It all comes down to patient experience and that depends on improving the doctor and staff experience. Happy doctors and staff make happy customers and they make happy CEO’s and happy stockholders, so it is important to get this right.
The Society of Physician Entrepreneurs provides a lot of information to physicians to better help them manage their offices. It is not a one-size-fits-all solution. All patients are different and communication needs are different. We recommend different modalities including online resources, social media and more. Patients are unhappy when they have to wait, when they feel their doctor does not spend enough time with them or they feel the doctor does not listen or use language they cannot understand. One of the biggest lost opportunities is not using social media to listen to patients. It can be very beneficial to doctor’s offices.”
“There is a fundamental disconnect in medicine today. Patients, caregivers, clinicians just don’t speak the same language. And while conventional wisdom suggest that we “dumb” down the education level of information and material—it still missed a fundamental point—that people are different and they learn and understand in different ways. And the tragic result of making all patient educational material into a “one size fits all”solution makes clinicians and pharma folks feel better, it really doesn’t help to optimize communications and in turn, clinical care.
We need only to look at the consumer world to get a sense of what medicine is doing wrong. From TV commercials to customize web engagement, connections between client and customer (doctor and patient) are both sophisticated and constantly fine-tuned to build stronger and more effective communications. Simply put, medicine today needs understanding your audience and customizing engagements to not only communicate but to resonate! A single mom in Alabama on a statin may require a different articulation than a gender and age matched professor at Stanford. Yet we often rely on the same generic patient material to engage, educate and inspire patients.
Part of the solution is to leverage technology to scientifically craft content—in text and design—to more accurately reflect the individual patient and caregiver. With the advance of artificial intelligence such as IBM Watson we can move from “natural language” to “natural speak” and build a communication platform that uniquely understands patients and not just to the generic 6-year old that too often represents the “average pharma” patient.
Finally, and yes, I am suggesting that computers and technology can modify part of the sacrosanct clinician-patient relationship and shift some of the burden to technology itself. But the aim isn’t to minimize the clinician-patient relationship, but to optimize it and expand the potential of human engagement and to facilitate the level of care that both patient and clinician desire.”
Lisa Petty, BSN, RN, CCRN, HNB-BC
Senior Clinical Nurse at University of Maryland Medical Center
“My experience as a nurse has taught me that you will get more information from a patient if you first put them at ease. Start with a general open ended comment that requires more than a yes/no answer. For example, “How are you feeling today?” This allows the patient to express their concerns.
The next most important tip is to listen to your patient. Keep them focused and on track regarding the issue at hand, but listen for subtleties that can be very informative. While answering questions remember to keep it simple. Most people are not versed in medical terms and therefore, explaining in a way that is clear and concise will assist the patient and family in following instructions and understanding diagnoses. At times, this may need to take place in incremental steps, especially depending on the circumstances.
Make sure your body language is open and matches what you are saying. People pick up conflicts between the two, even if unconsciously so. Be open and maintain good eye contact.
Effective communication with patients is the key to effective, patient-centered care. Practicing will help. Be willing to speak openly with your patients in a truthful manner. People will come to appreciate this more often than not and will see you as the caring professional you are. Always remain engaged, positive and interactive.”
Pamela Wible, MD
Founder of the Ideal Medical Care Movement
2015 Women Leaders in Medicine Award Recipient
“The number one way to improve patient communication is to spend time with patients and stop rushing them through big box assembly-line medical clinics.
When I decided to open a private practice, I was determined to do things differently. I needed to know what my patients really wanted from me. So I led a series of town hall meetings where I invited my community to design an ideal medical clinic. I collected 100 pages of written testimony, adopted 90 percent of the feedback, and opened one month later. Now my job description is written by patients, not administrators. I’m finally the doctor my patients had always imagined.
By “removing the middle men” and no-value-added intermediaries, I now have more direct relationships with my patients. They requested a simplified, small office with less staff running around. So now I’m a solo doc with no staff. I don’t miss the layers of bureaucracy and administration. Nor do my 500 patients who get uninterrupted 30-minute to 60-minute appointments. I do accept most insurance plans; the ones that don’t require hoop jumping through a gazillion unfunded administrative mandates.
These changes have given me the freedom to take the time to really communicate with my patients. I now coach other physicians on how to jump off the assembly line. To find out more, please watch our 53-second video on how to join the Ideal Medical Care Movement.”