To provide patients with proper care, understanding their situations and having effective communication skills is critical for success. Effective communication promotes improved patient outcomes, increases cooperation, and enhances overall office efficiency. How do healthcare providers improve their medical communication with their patients?
In almost every aspect of your medical practice, direct (and indirect) patient care roles require effectively interacting with both patients and other medical professionals to provide the best experience possible.
Research shows there is a direct link between the quality of communication and patient outcomes. Not only that, but studies demonstrate a correlation between enhanced communication and patient adherence and decreased readmission rates. What’s more, better communication does NOT require more of a doctor’s or staff member’s time, nor does it increase overall costs.
In healthcare today, delivering an excellent patient experience is a team sport where everyone on your staff plays a critical role. Below, we’ll unpack five ways you can enhance patient communication, and as a result, improve the patient experience, and boost high-star reviews as well as your bottom line.
1. Patient Onboarding and Readiness
Medical practices today don’t just compete with the practice down the street. Patients now compare the service they receive to other companies rocking it on customer service like Amazon or the Ritz Carlton.
You (should) have an onboarding process for new employees, so why not do the same for new patients? Many practices typically invite a new patient to the portal to complete the necessary new patient forms. But you can outshine the competition by providing resources on your web portal that answer many common questions before the patient even thinks to ask them.
Consider the following ideas to prepare patients for their appointment:
- You can create videos (or other media) that explain everything from where to park, to common conditions and treatments, to what patients can expect during their first appointment.
- You can also turn the video into an audio podcast that patients can subscribe to and listen to on their way to work. Online patient education services like ViewMedica can do the work for you if you’re short on time.
- Another way to enhance patient readiness is to send out a short lifestyle-related questionnaire (in the format of the patient’s choice). Often, people arrive with only one treatment in mind. When a recommendation for another product or treatment is offered, patients may be overwhelmed and leave without acquiring a product or service to enhance their experience, or they may go home without sufficient information regarding their visit. The questionnaire can help prepare the patient for different service and treatment options before they arrive.
Onboarding resources can improve clinic flow as patients won’t need to ask as many questions once they arrive. You’ll also potentially cut down on patients arriving late for their appointments.
2. Stay Responsive
Patients today expect their healthcare providers to respond to them wherever they happen to be, whether on or offline. If a patient reaches out to you by phone or on social media, they must receive a HIPAA-compliant response.
If patients feel ignored, they will often attempt to vent their frustrations on Google reviews, other review sites, or on social media. Therefore, how you respond to comments and reactions (both negative AND positive) on social media or review sites is mission-critical. It’s customer service 101.
Patients (both current and potential) expect a response when they “like” something or comment on social media. Part of staying responsive involves liking those comments back (in a timely manner) and saying, “Thanks for sharing.”
If you’re thinking, “I have social media and reputation management covered,” here’s a real-world example to demonstrate how vital being responsive really is.
One medical practice we work with had this 1-star review posted to their Google review page after a frustrated patient could not get in contact with an office staff member.
“My Doctor and the reception were very good. I was told I needed an EMG. At checkout, they said to call Carmen if no one called in a couple of days. I didn’t hear from anyone. I left a message 3 times with Carmen, and the recording said she would call me within 24hrs. No callback. I got her supervisor’s recording saying she would call me within 24 hrs. No callback. Carmen finally called and gave me the phone number for Dr. Kashouty. I’ve called Anna 2 times now with no return call. Don’t know where to turn. It’s gone on for 12 days.”
Responding to negative comments and reviews has become more important than ever. It takes a team effort both with someone in-house and potentially an external social media and marketing professional. However you go about responding to negative feedback, it should be handled by someone on the inside who understands your system and can find the person in question and contact them to deal diplomatically with the situation.
3. Website Chat
Offering some form of chatbot capability on your website can help meet your patients’ communication expectations. A chatbot uses artificial intelligence (AI) to conduct conversations instead of a real person. Chatbots can deliver personalized content around the clock without the need for a live human to respond. Also, any interaction can be safely stored in a HIPAA-compliant manner.
Bots represent a sure-fire way to make patients happy by giving them the specific information they are looking for right away. They also help free up significant phone and email time from your front-line employees.
Chatbots in healthcare are rising in demand, and medical practices can offer an array of services from symptom information and appointment scheduling to dealing with general questions or concerns.
4. Hostmanship (awesome patient experience)
Making patients feel welcome at your practice is a core component to delivering an exceptional patient experience and boosting overall patient satisfaction. And that responsibility not only falls on the physicians but also the billing department and your front-line staff. Everyone plays their unique role in creating a positive, welcoming experience for the patient. Without it, people will go elsewhere.
Your practice, your team, and your doctors are no longer able to differentiate themselves from other practices through skill and experience alone. You’re now competing with services that patients are experiencing with every company online and in person. It’s no longer good enough to talk about skills, education, or years in practice. You now have to walk your talk and show your patients that you truly care. Patients’ biggest impressions are based upon how they feel when they arrive and when they leave your practice. Similar to how they felt about their experiences at their favorite restaurant, chiropractor, nail salon, or online shopping store.
“Hostmanship” is the art of engaging and welcoming your patients. It’s viewing them as a “dear guest” and showing empathy and compassion. It’s how you create excitement and awe. If you think about it, you probably spend more time in the office than you do at home. Your office is your home! And your patients have a choice as to whose home they want to visit.
Moreover, when you make somebody feel good, they tend to spend money on things because they feel great at the moment, even if it may be a little bit more than they would have spent somewhere else. And when people feel good, they tend to be more loyal.
5. Develop Welcoming and Parting Rituals
A patient’s first impression of your practice will occur within the first few seconds of their appointment. Therefore, developing a welcome and parting rituals are essential.
Your staff should acknowledge every patient within 30 seconds of them walking through the door. As soon as the door opens, a staff member should be looking up. Yes, there may be multiple things going on at the front desk. However, your staff, at the minimum, can still acknowledge a visitor by making eye contact with them, smiling, and letting them know they’re welcome.
We’re big fans of standing up to greet and welcome patients when they come up to the desk. Many practices now offer beverages to patients while they’re waiting. And that’s important if long wait times are the norm (as they tend to be). And even though you may have a long wait time, if you’ve already welcomed someone and they’re feeling good, people tend to be a little more forgiving of things that occur.
The same thing goes when a patient leaves. We need to thank them again for being our guest and then reconfirm their next appointment time. It also provides an opportunity to check in about additional services. Those patients may not know that your practice offers ancillary services. So, closing with a thank you, offering to explain additional service lines, and telling patients you look forward to seeing them at their next visit will pay great dividends both now and down the road.