In recent years, a great deal of attention has focused on HCAHPS scores and efforts to improve them. Unfortunately, it is easy to become mired in the measures of today’s healthcare world and lose focus of the true “why” behind efforts to improve the patient experience.
As physicians, what drives us is providing high quality care and improving clinical outcomes for our patients. Effective physician-patient communication is critically important to these efforts. Research has repeatedly shown there is a clear link between how well we communicate and patient outcomes.
Research has demonstrated the connection between better communication scores and improved patient adherence, lower readmission rates, improved mortality rates, lower malpractice risk and reduced cost per case. No other area of medical knowledge or technical skill has a greater impact on our patients.
In addition to the significant patient benefits, other advantages to improved communication with patients include improved physician job satisfaction, improved market share and reputation, and reduced medical errors and patient safety events. The best part is, better communication does NOT require more of the physician’s time nor additional costs.
But as physicians are pushed to be more productive and take on more responsibility, it’s human nature to get caught up in focusing on tasks, routines and job requirements. When that happens, communication can break down, and we can come across as less caring.
We need practice — and discipline — to get it right. Thankfully, like any medical procedure, good communication is something that can be taught, learned, assessed and improved. Here are nine strategies to help you refocus and enhance your patient interactions.
Develop a welcoming ritual
Your patients will draw their first impression of you within the first few seconds of your appointment, so having a practiced ritual is key. That ritual might include announcing your entrance, smiling and making eye contact. Proceed by addressing your patient by name, introducing yourself and offering a handshake or other appropriate touch. Acknowledge all visitors, sit down if possible and start the conversation with something nonmedical to establish rapport.
Once rapport has been established, elicit your patient’s expectations or goals and ensure there is an opportunity for all of his/her concerns to be shared. You can ask questions such as “What were you hoping we’d accomplish today?” and “Is there something else you’d like to talk about?” Once you have the patient’s agenda, summarize it by listing the issues. A 2011 studyshowed that collaborating on an up-front agenda did not increase visit length or the number of problems addressed per visit, but it did reduce the likelihood of patients bringing up new complaints or information late in the visit.