In recent years, the healthcare industry has shifted its focus to provide care that is more patient-centered and sensitive to patient needs, wants, and personal preferences. The patient-centered care model is a cooperative effort between health practitioners, patients, and their families. As a part of this cooperative effort, patients are actively participating in their health care decisions and health care professionals are committed to fully understand their patients’ health care expectations and to meet those needs. So, how do health care professionals go about fulfilling these expectations and determining what patients want?
For starters, health care professionals are taking a step back to define the elements of good communication. Some barriers to good communication include language, learning disabilities, financial, or cultural differences. Despite the challenges, today’s health care professionals are striving to break down these barriers to understand and effectively communicate with all patients regardless of learning and communications styles.
“Good communication between patient and provider requires that health care organizations use clear and concise written, electronic, and verbal communication.”[i] This means being transparent and responsive to patients in all aspects of their health care experience. After identifying and understanding the elements of good communication, a proactive organization performs a communication audit to properly assess the current communication strategy in place, identify any deficiencies, and determine how best to engage patients going forward.
Throughout the auditing process, the organization must be receptive to the patient perspective. Listening to and documenting patient concerns can provide great insight into what may or may not be working for an organization. If there is a particular area of performance where patients seem to be consistently dissatisfied, this could indicate that the organization is not connecting with its patients as intended.
A communication audit requires that each healthcare organization ask some very in-depth questions and partake in a bit of organizational soul searching. Questions in a communication audit may include:
- How do your employees view/address patient complaints?
- Does your staff view complaints as an opportunity to satisfy patients who are unhappy with their health care experience?
- What lessons has your organization learned from patient complaints/feedback?
- What strategies does your organization have in place to respond to and/or resolve to patient concerns?
The results of a communication audit may vary depending on the strengths and weaknesses of the organization. In some instances an audit may reveal that patients are having difficulty navigating the organization’s website or perhaps would prefer a more user-friendly way of making payments or scheduling appointments online. Oftentimes organizations determine through patient feedback that their voice messaging systems are inefficient or other aspects of timely response to patients needs improvement. During the communication auditing process, health care organizations can discover various ways of tweaking their services to better align with the patient-centered care model.
While a communication audit can provide a tremendous amount of insight into specific areas or opportunities for improvement, it is not the only method for determining what patients expect from their chosen health care professionals. In fact, by asking your employees what matters most to them in their health care experience, you may find find insights into what your organization needs to boost its patient engagement initiative.
Contrary to what some may believe, patients are not expecting their medical providers to deliver them the world on a silver platter. They simply want to deal with healthcare professionals who are empathetic to their feelings, transparent and forthcoming with information, and accessible. According to a 2016 Journal of Participatory Medicine study patients value the importance of health care professionals who listen, care, and can explain issues in a clear, detailed fashion, and pleasant interactions with hospital and/or staff tend to have the most impact on their health care experience.[ii] So, how do health care professionals communicate their ability to meet these intrinsic patient needs? Here are few areas where health care organizations can begin to communicate more clearly with patients and display their ability to meet patient expectations.
Keeping Your Website Up-to-date
As we all know, patient experience is influenced by more than just physician-to-patient interaction. In fact, in many cases the patient experience has already begun before the first office visit. Think about it for a moment. When you want to know more about a potential healthcare provider, where do you go for more information? Most people refer to the physician’s website. It’s the first representation patients have of your organization, and you only get one opportunity to make a good first impression. Because your organization’s website is such an essential component of the patient engagement experience, all information posted to the site such as phone numbers, staff information, addresses, office hours, service descriptions, forms, payment options, etc., should be continuously updated to ensure accuracy. By providing the correct information up front on the website, health care organizations can take the initial step and display transparency to patients before their first one-on-one interaction.
Making Yourself Available to Patients
One of the most impactful ways of communicating to patients that your organization is capable of meeting their expectations is to make it easier for patients to reach you by phone. Of course it is impossible to answer and take every single phone call as it comes in, but implementing a system that will allow patient calls to be returned within a timely manner can definitely go a long way. There are also methods of reducing call-time or making hold-time more pleasant for callers. Depending on call volume, there are various strategies such as pre-recorded voice scripts, and additional staff training that can improve accessibility, allowing patients to conveniently schedule and/or cancel appointments, receive staff check-in calls, and speak directly with physicians more often when needed.
Recognizing and Responding to Patient Emotion
Health care professionals are often faced with the task of delivering serious news to their patients with regard to an illness or condition. Such news can be overwhelming for patients and may even interfere with their ability to understand and process the information being communicated. In sensitive situations such as these, what patients often need and expect from their chosen health care professionals is for providers to display as much empathy as possible. Health care professionals who take their patients’ feelings into account are better equipped to effectively communicate and demonstrate their commitment to patients' needs.
Patient-centered care requires that health care professionals become fully engaged with their patients. By identifying communication deficiencies, health care organizations can better align themselves with patient values and effectively communicate their ability to consistently exceed expectations.
In what ways has your organizations identified and improved upon patient communication? Tell us in the comments below.
[i] Boykins, Anita Davis, DNSc, FNP-BC, PMHNP-BC. The ABNF Journal (2014): 40-45. Web.
[ii]Wen, Leana S.,and Suhavi Tucker. "What Do People Want From Their Health Care? A Qualitative Study." Journal of Participatory Medicine 7 (2015): 1. Web.
CATMEDIA is an award-winning Inc. 500 company based in Atlanta, Georgia. Founded in 1997, the company specializes in advertising, creative services, media production, program management, training, and human resource management. As a Women Owned Small Business (WOSB), CATMEDIA provides world-class customer service and innovative solutions to government and commercial clients. Current CATMEDIA clients include Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), Office of Personnel Management (OPM), and the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).