Today, requirements and regulations are leading us on a path where physician reimbursement could be based on outcomes. Combine that fact with the issue of outpatient overtaking inpatient, and you’ll agree that engaging patients in their own care has become even more crucial.
But how can you encourage a patient to become more involved in his or her own care? Perhaps nothing has a greater impact on patient engagement than doctor-patient communications. Here are five key rules to follow to improve that dynamic exchange.
- Recognize your patient’s motivators. Get to know your patient’s life situation, and show him/her how self-care will improve it. Is your patient a senior with grandchildren? Remind him he’ll be back to fishing with the grandkids in no time if he sticks with his post-surgery physical therapy. Is your patient a teen who wants to be rid of her ailment before the homecoming dance? Ensure her that taking her meds will help make that happen.
- Ask patients what they think about their treatment. Instead of simply handing over a treatment plan, engage them in creating it. Ask about milestone events and work around them. Listen to their preferences. If they’re part of the process, they’ll be more likely to follow it.
- Don’t limit communications to the exam room. Make a follow-up call to see if patients are having any problems with their self-care. Send a letter recapping instructions. In fact, even texts and emails are considered important to today’s patient. A recent survey sponsored by Seattle communications firm Varolii showed that a majority of patients expect their doctors to communicate with them proactively via email, text or smartphone app -- even when they’re well. Note that these communications don’t have to come from you personally just from your office. Know that the personal interaction at some junction during the course of care, however, can make a huge difference in level of engagement.
- Make sure you have every single record. Even with today’s adaption of EHRs and technology, too often, complete records aren’t available or forwarded to the patient’s physician. This can lead to mismanaged care, a contraindication in medications and hospital readmission. According to a brief created by Health Affairs and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, specific care transition interventions can cut hospital readmission by one-third. Lead that intervention, and you could save a patient.
- Arm your patient with information. If you can’t hand over a brochure during patients' visits, create an information packet and ship it to them as soon as possible. You may include research on the meds you’re prescribing as well as their condition or treatment. The more they know, the more they’ll be involved.
The “rules” of patient engagement are in constant change. In fact, at the recent Medical Group Management Association conference in San Antonio, a specialist with the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services noted that the CMS may revisit Stage 2 meaningful use rules and requirements for engagement if those standards prove too onerous for the industry to meet. But rules or no rules, engagement needs to drive care in your practice. In this case, communications has healing properties.
Cindy Thomas Wright has practiced marketing and communications for more than 25 years. She owns a strategic marketing and communications firm, Thomas Wright Partners, that works with leaders in healthcare, industry and government to develop brands and programs that build consensus, grow business and affect change.