How to Improve Patient Communication

Patient-provider partnerships are vital to making shared decisions on patient care. However, fostering these crucial connections can be difficult when each patient interaction often lasts only minutes.

While it may be challenging to implement streamlined communication at your healthcare organization, improved patient communication creates a better patient experience and leads to better health outcomes. Discover top tips for improving patient communication and Welkin’s strategies to implement healthcare technology that helps your team and patients communicate more effectively.

Why is it important to improve patient communication?

The clinician-patient relationship revolves around patient communication, and the reality is that most patients feel that communication with their clinicians could be improved. Although 75 percent of surgeons believe they communicate well with their patients, only 21 percent of their patients feel they receive satisfactory communication. Everything from obtaining patient medical history to conveying an effective treatment plan requires clinicians to have strong communication skills and build a trusting relationship with their patients.

Offering compassion

Patients are, first and foremost, people with real emotions. The connection between patients and their providers empowers both sides to co-create treatment plans. Clinicians need to listen to patient concerns, provide comfort, and foster the overall relationship in order to provide a wholly therapeutic service. Quality healthcare will suffer if this basic human need is not met first.

Patients need to be encouraged to ask questions (and not feel rushed), as well as be included in decision-making throughout their care. It’s also important to remember that not all patients come with an extensive network of family members or friends, and those that do not might need extra emotional support.

Many patients use their clinicians’ bedside manner as an indicator of their general competence. Clinicians should always be ready to deliver news (both bad and good) with compassion. Ideally, healthcare providers should be able to validate emotions, help patients comprehend their condition, ensure they’re compliant in their treatment, and keep anxiety levels low.

Building rapport

Building rapport also leads to better patient outcomes—it paves the way for symptom resolution, pain management, natural blood pressure level regulation, and beyond. When proper rapport is developed between the two parties, collaborative patient communication is a truly reciprocal two-way exchange of information.

Forging a patient-provider bond that is harmonious is key to helping patients let their guard down enough to open up and share necessary details. Patients may hold back vital medical information if they are not comfortable with their physician. However, when the patient shares all aspects of their health that may affect the treatment plan, providers are better able to help the patient move toward positive clinical outcomes. This kind of knowledge helps the clinician personalize the experience to the patient’s unique needs and circumstances.

4 strategies to improve patient communication

Use the following methods to better patient communication at your healthcare organization. You are bound to see improved systems that everyone clinicians and patients alike can get behind.

1. Nurture the provider-patient relationship

Medical providers should always prioritize developing a strong relationship with their patients. Keep in mind, to do this, they need to be able to show empathy, so provide training if necessary.

A sense of trust needs to exist between your clinicians and their patients. To foster that trust, healthcare professionals at your practice can adopt the “BATHE” technique. When leveraging this interview structure during appointments, providers will ask about:

  • Background: Have patients explain what they think is happening.
  • Affect: Have patients convey how it makes them feel.
  • Trouble: Patients should let the clinician know what’s most bothersome about their healthcare troubles.
  • Handling: Providers will ask how the individual has been handling the issue thus far.
  • Empathy: This one is a given.

All the while, clinicians should be making eye contact with the patient, whether in person or via a telehealth device. They should also be aware of their body language and facial expression, listen without interrupting, and exchange pleasantries. Manage expectations and see to it that patients know your staff is highly experienced, but that they will not take an overly authoritative approach. Practices where patients were made to feel empowered by their healthcare provider—rather than feeling as though their clinician assumed a patriarchal role—had as much as twice the patient retention rate.

Ask patients for feedback to get a solid idea of how your staff is doing with their journey toward impeccable patient communication. Don’t forget to identify communication roadblocks specific to physicians, the patient’s demographic, and your healthcare organization’s region. For instance, immigrant patients who do not speak fluent English may not fully understand what is being communicated to them. This potentially impedes their ability to voice concerns or follow care instructions. Never be afraid to ask peer care providers to critique your communication technique.

Additionally, look for gaps in patient communication and patient satisfaction, and adjust where needed. Reports of patient-generated health data and customer feedback can help give you a bird’s-eye view of where improvements need to be made. A robust Care Management tool can ensure you have all the health information you need in one place, to be accessed by any part of the care team that requires it—wherever and whenever they need it.

2. Educate patients

Help patients understand their condition and give them the opportunity to learn more. When in doubt, provide outside resources such as reading materials, studies, support groups, helpful websites, and more. It’s worth noting that the most critical part of this approach is to guide patients only to materials they are likely to absorb.

Americans are increasingly searching the internet for health resources but may be met with less-than-ideal readability and clarity. If crucial concepts are not being grasped, these resources are a waste, and the patient could end up becoming more confused about their health plan. Nothing good can come out of this.

A good rule of thumb is to make sure the information you recommend to patients is at approximately a 5th-grade comprehension level. This will greatly increase the odds that everyone from your broad audience will understand the information you provide. When materials go above a 6th-grade level, one cannot be sure that the average American will know what to do with it, and this can quickly become confusing—and even unsafe. Patients who cannot apprehend what you are prescribing—medication or otherwise—may not be able to correctly follow their treatment protocols or tell when there is a problem.

3. Improve internal communication

Ninety-six percent of healthcare executives have reported that poor collaboration between staff has led to mistakes within their organizations.

Internal communication is just as important as patient communication, as they frequently go hand in hand. If communication is not working well internally, it is sure to lead to challenges in patient communication. It is wise to invest in continuing education for clinicians on good communication skills, but for other staff as well.

A well-trained team of receptionists, nurses, and other healthcare providers will help build patient trust and relay vital patient information to the necessary team members before they even step into the room with a patient. Implementing a system that can help all different types of healthcare employees share their knowledge with one another and more easily and efficiently do their jobs can reduce errors from miscommunication. View your team as one unit rather than several moving parts for a smooth, cohesive flow.

Downtime, patient dissatisfaction, and even lawsuits can be avoided with the right processes put into place by the right platform. We will get into this next.

4. Use technology

Patients appreciate when their healthcare providers are clear, direct, and make things simple for them. They don’t want to have to chase their clinician down to get their questions answered. If long phone conversations prove to tie people up more than get their questions answered, you can try email hours, instant messaging, and setting up automatic notifications.

Don’t hinder patient communication by making them navigate a multitude of different platforms. Stick to up to three or so, and be willing to reach patients through their preferred communication methods. Newsletters and social media should not be overlooked to create additional touchpoints with patients. In this digital era, taking advantage of the most popular communication channels shows patients that you genuinely care, both during visits and in between them.

Care Management platforms are used to create a revitalized sense of efficiency and assure your patients get the treatment they need from the appropriate people at the right time. Your clinicians will be able to deliver higher quality care to each person without the usual challenges. If your staff is finding it hasn’t spent enough time focusing on actual care delivery that prioritizes patients, you may be dealing with ineffective software. It’s time for a change.

The best program will offer everything you need in one place to streamline both internal and patient communication. Care Management platforms like Welkin help keep your team on track with its convenient and powerful set of applications and functions. It’s built for everyone on the team.

If you’re a program director, you need to read this.

Welkin enables you to use meaningful insights to inform each choice you make throughout your day at work, so you can provide better programs than ever before. With this cutting-edge technology, you can see the bigger picture, create a space for your employees to have their conversations all in one place, never lose data, become more organized, automate processes, consolidate tools, and always stay on top of program health with data-driven decisions.

Give the team at your healthcare organization a true advantage by presenting a better system. Ultimately, you will see healthier, happier patients and more fulfilled clinical workers by leveling up your patient communication. Healthcare professionals that leave outdated communication approaches behind to work better together will offer patients enhanced quality of service that makes them come back to your healthcare organization, rather than your competitor’s.

Learn all there is to know about improving the all-important patient experience so you can begin making your program more care centric today!

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