Skill and knowledge, of course, are obviously necessary. But communication is also vital and fundamental to developing good rapport and helping patients become engaged in their own health care. Experience has shown us that when patients are engaged, they are more likely to speak openly and honestly about their health issues, better understand their treatment options, and follow through with recommended care.
It is, perhaps, a no-brainer that improving clinical outcomes is a primary goal for all providers, and multiple studies have found that a positive patient experience is correlated with better outcomes. Ultimately, it comes down to patient experience of care.
Patients value quality service on a par with excellent clinical outcomes. This means that to achieve a quality patient experience of care, you need to successfully deliver both superior customer service and quality clinical care.
It’s also been demonstrated that physician compensation is increasingly connected to a patient’s experience of care. Both public and private payers are coming to understand that how a patient perceives their care is a direct indicator of quality.
Historically, providers have tended to focus on the quality of clinical care and left customer satisfaction initiatives to administration. But today, with the prospect of improved patient outcomes and significant financial incentives on the line, everyone in your organization should have the same goal of promoting and improving the quality of patient service.
So which changes can your organization make today that will mutually benefit both you and your patients?
- Minimize distractions and interruptions. Your time with the patient should be free of any unnecessary distractions. Allow patients to share their story regarding their health issues without interruption. Do not communicate to the patient that you are in a hurry even though you may be. Interrupting the patient to “get to the heart of the matter” is disconcerting and aggravating to the patient and does not promote rapport.
- Sit at the same level as the patient and maintain eye contact. Maintaining eye contact can be a challenge when using computer technology in the exam room to record the patient encounter. Devise strategies so that you can complete documentation but also give the patient uninterrupted time where you can maintain eye contact. This communicates to the patient that they have your undivided attention. Consider carefully the placement of technology in the exam room so you are not turning your back to the patient during the interview process.
- Listen actively and effectively. Concentrate on what the patient is telling you both verbally and nonverbally, noting both objective fact and emotion. When the patient has finished talking verbally, summarize the information they shared with you and ask the patient to confirm your understanding. Be aware of the nonverbal messages you are communicating to the patient. Avoid crossing your arms or appearing distracted with administrative duties. Leaning in, maintaining eye contact, and nodding at appropriate moments are all strong indicators that you are interested and receptive to what the patient is telling you.
- Keep it simple and assess the patient’s understanding. It is important to develop an understanding of the patient’s ability to process and understand the information that you provide. Your patients have varying degrees of education and healthy literacy, which may affect their ability to understand the information that you provide. In general, using lay terminology that is easily understood by the patient and their family will ensure that the important elements of medical care are understood. Certain patients may request additional or more detailed discussion to which you can then respond. Using the teach-back method requires the patient to repeat the information you have provided in their own words. This is a valuable tool to help you gauge the patient’s comprehension.
- Encourage questions. Encourage patients to ask any questions they may have about their medical concerns and the information you provided during the exam and interview. Patients are often intimidated and fearful about asking questions, thinking they may be asking a “stupid question.” Efforts to reduce the patient’s anxiety about asking questions are important. Let patients know that you have provided them “with a lot of medical information today and that this information can be confusing.” Then encourage your patient to ask anything they like regarding today’s exam.
Making a conscious decision to implement these techniques can yield significant improvement in your patients’ health care experiences. When you take the time to build rapport and engage the patient, you and your patient are likely to find a number of benefits, including compliance with recommended care and improved clinical outcomes, which in turn, lead to an enhanced overall patient experience of care.