Improving Patient Relations at Your Medical Practice in 2014

December 31, 2013

Having gone through the medical system as a patient I came away with some insight into the lives of patients that billers usually don't see.

I started an incredible journey last year. One that I never thought I would have to take. In May of 2012 I found a lump at the base of my neck which was eventually found to be thyroid cancer. Thank God I am now cancer free, but having gone through the medical system as a patient I came away with some insight into the lives of patients that billers usually don't see or deal with.

Having been in the medical field for more than 20 years, you know I had scores of colleagues, coworkers, friends, and acquaintances who wanted to give me expert advice. I had people tell me their take on the situation or detail their story to me in detail by agonizing detail. Why is it that when something happens to you, everybody in the world seems to know all there is to know about what you should do or shouldn't do and feel compelled to tell you every "worst-case scenario" they have ever heard about?

 

So this is what I learned about how to deal with patients from being one myself:

1. Be careful what you say and how you say it.

I wanted people to be honest with me, but I also wanted more positivity that I was getting.

 

I didn’t want to hear things like, "Oh well if you're going to have cancer, thyroid cancer is the kind you want." So, "Um, no, I don't want any cancer, thank you very much," is what I wanted to say back to these hopefully well-meaning folks.

2. Don't make light of what they are going through.

 

Another common thing I heard was, "Oh, it’s just thyroid cancer." Anytime you say "it's JUST" this or that, you are belittling the seriousness of the issue being discussed. Yes I understand that thyroid cancer is not as life threatening or treatment intensive as some other cancers, but it is still cancer and still an ordeal with which you much come to terms.

 

You might be able to handle a certain diagnosis better than someone else. That fact does not lessen the impact of what they are experiencing.

3. Don't assume you know what they are feeling.

 

If I had a nickel for every time someone told me they knew exactly how I felt, I would be a millionaire. Everyone comes into a situation from a different vantage point and with different baggage. Each of us possesses a unique set of emotional triggers and a particular breaking point. Many things go into what feel during a medical crisis… … the external aspects of our lives at that given time, our personality, our previous experiences with similar episodes, our outlook on life, and our faith or lack thereof. Even if you have had the exact same diagnosis as the patient you are dealing with, you did not come from the exact same background nor have you lived the exact same life as that patient, so you do not know exactly how they feel. And feelings are fickle, how you feel today can be completely different than how you feel tomorrow. One thing I experienced during my sickness was that my emotions were wide ranging. Some days I felt strong and blessed while on other days I felt weak and overlooked.

4. Realize that you are not the only biller calling them.

When you have an extended illness or a condition requiring numerous tests, procedures, surgeries, and visits, the bills quickly add up. All billers know that deductibles and out-of-pocket limits have skyrocketed. A few years ago, the average out-of-pocket limit for most insurance plans was $3,000. This year, the average out-of-pocket limit is $9,000. The majority of patients must make monthly payments and that amounts to $750 per month out of their salary. Combine that with lost time from work and there is a very real danger of the patient's savings being depleted or worse.

As billers, we are in a position to offer tremendous help to patients as they try to navigate through the pitfalls of dealing with their insurance company and their medical condition at the same time. Our insensitivity to them can make or break our office's relationship with that patient and eventually other patients as well.