As a doctor, the best way to develop better communication with patients is by increasing trust and improving practice efficiency. This, in turn, will enhance your patient’s satisfaction and advance your patient retention. rate Although it may sound almost trite to suggest simple measures like “patient trust” and “practice efficiency” as a strategy to building a thriving practice, you’ll see, after examining each concept in some detail, that it’s possible to use simple measure to arrive at a practical business model. Sometimes it’s the little, commonsense things that make all the difference.
Build Patient Trust
Patient trust starts with good communication between you and your patients. Earning trust is not simply a matter of showing up and doing a good job, because there are many ways that lost unintentionally.
Trust is usually lost when communication is lost. Once communication falters, the relationship with your patient is on the decline. Miscommunication is often as much a result of what was not said as what was said.
Although you may be a genuine, honest and caring physician, you may not realize that the patient is almost completely unaware of the help they are getting because for the most part they don’t understand what it is that you are doing to help them. When they don’t understand what you are doing or why you are doing it, they suspect you of not doing enough.
Some common instances of communication breaking down occur because your patient may be frightened by medical procedures, cannot hear well, or cannot understand your words.
Scared patients may not express their confusion and concern, elderly patients with hearing problems may not actually hear you, and patients who are not native-English speakers may not understand your vocabulary or pace of speech.
While these communication breakdowns may not matter much in the course of ordinary life, they have a huge impact in a clinical setting.
Although you may assume that everything is fine, since the patient does not say anything that might lead you suspect otherwise, the patient may have an entirely different perspective and actually feel the visit is a waste of time and money. Your silence because everything checks out fine, may be misinterpreted as a sign of disinterest and an aloof attitude. Eventually, your patient will find another doctor, one who takes the time to make an effort to understand them. Statistics on patient retention have shown that a practice may lose half its patients every five years.
In essence, then, trust is lost when your patient believes you are not interested in finding out what is wrong. While you may actually be doing your best, making sure that all their tests came back positive, by not communicating what you are thinking and doing, your patient may feel they received inadequate service.
Here are 4 Ways to Improve Communication:
The art of communication is a whole study in itself and well worth the time to study it, but, in the meanwhile, here are four simple ways to prevent communication breakdowns in the exam room:
1. Ask your patients lots of questions.
This will improve their perception of the quality of their visit. Patients like to be asked for their consent, even if it is actually unnecessary and it might slow you down explaining how and why you’re doing things, but a general explanation of what you are doing will calm them down and reassure them that their health is in expert hands.
2. Address your patients’ worries as they come up.
Patients often read books and magazine articles about their condition, as well as browse websites and compare notes with friends and relatives with similar issues. Unfortunately, they may not always read researched reports, but biased perspectives. Consequently, they may resist your efforts to help them like not taking the medications you prescribed or taking less than the required dosage because they may not fully understand the benefits of your approach. Often, too, they may have misunderstood the nature of their illness and come up with some erroneous conclusions about the progression of their illness and your attempts to help them, and while this muddle-headed approach may irritate you, you should not feel insulted but explain your treatment plan and the reasons for it.
3. Give patients resources for further research.
Those who want to know what is going on with their health will appreciate tips on books, websites, and other educational materials. Successful doctors sometimes go so far as to show them pictures of what is going on.
4. Practice active listening.
Although you may know a patient fairly well, don’t jump to conclusions on what they might be thinking. Before explaining, find out what they’re thinking, and you may have to ask questions to find out what is on their mind.
All four of these steps are based on providing patients with a positive experience. Patients who understand what you are saying, and who feel heard and respected will become long-term patients and recommend family and friends for many years.
There are many ways of improving the efficiency of a practice, including enhancing better patient flow and cycle time. When you run a tight ship, patients will be pleased because they will experience more satisfaction in communicating with your partners, nurses, and administrative staff.
Here are five questions to stimulate ideas on how you can make your practice run better:
1. Do you give the nurses enough patient responsibility or just keep them preoccupied with busy work?
If you want to be an efficient doctor, you need to surround yourself with efficient nurses. The nurses in your practice should be familiar with all the doctors in you clinic as well as all your patients so that they can always perform at their best. By working as a team, nurses can perform preliminary tests on patients before a doctor comes into the room to examine the patient. Nurses should also be familiar with the office’s daily schedule so they can make necessary adjustments when any of the doctor’s are falling behind. For instance, if there seems a likelihood of the practice becoming overbooked for the day, nurses can figure out how to reschedule patients. Some patients will be willing to make a new appointment while others will appreciate being forewarned of a delay instead of feeling that they are being ignored.
2. Do you use the best technology to improve communication?
Problems can arise because phones are not answered or messages left on an answering machine not heard. This can be resolved by asking staff to keep logs of all calls they received and by setting a regular schedule to review voice mail.
A good website will go a long way in making it easier for patients to download information forms, get directions, and introduce patients to the doctors and nurses at your clinic.
There are also software companies that make applications just for doctors. One company, Solution Reach, has a software program that improves doctor-patient relationships by providing convenient appointment reminders, electronic patient surveys, and ways of connecting through social media. There are also numerous other features, including features to enhance patients’ experience by putting people on an ASAP mailing list, running digital check-ins, and remembering birthdays and automatically sending out birthday wishes.
3. Do you offer scheduling that suits patients?
This is a question of balancing regular care, chronic care, and acute care appointments. Besides resolving possible time conflicts, patients appreciate seeing their own doctor rather than only the physicians currently available to see them. Additionally, patients appreciate it if their wait times are kept to a 20 minute minimum or being informed about delays.
4. Do you stay abreast of patient information?
This can be done through using good software, an electronic record system that keeps track of all patient information, can produce timely reports on demand, generate recall letters, and schedule physicals and special follow-up visits.
5. Do you have clear guidelines on payment?
Payments can be a sticky issue and result in considerable revenue loss if not run efficiently. Prior to a patient’s visit, insurance eligibility, copayments, and deductions should be verified. If there are problems, they can be discussed and resolved when the patient checks in. Another huge source of revenue loss is insurance fraud, by copying photo IDs during the first visit, it will derail these attempts. Sometimes, problems arise from the patient’s inability to pay. A payment schedule, a promissory note, and a letter about referrals going to either a collection agency or a collections attorney (for large claims) usually resolves this potential problem before it gets out of control.
There are many obstacles to running a profitable clinic ranging from competitive pressures to patient’s shopping for better deals. However, these pale in comparison to what doctors do to ruin their own practices. Small things, like talking to a patient a little longer to get their buy in on a treatment procedure and running a practice more efficiently can make the difference between making a good living to worrying about going out of business. If you want to succeed as a doctor, you have to set the bar high and then meet your own highest expectations.