Physicians Practice Pearls: Get Them Involved

March 1, 2006

Getting patients involved in their own care.


How many patients have brought you articles from a magazine or the Internet today?

It may have only been one or two, but the numbers are growing every day. While patients traditionally walked in with the attitude, "Here's my body; fix it," now they're walking in expecting to be part of the care process.

What does this mean for you?

  • Use it to your advantage. Patients who care are more willing to make positive changes for the sake of their health. Get patients involved in their own care by discussing their role in the treatment plan. Give them other resources that they can use (such as support groups and Web sites that you recommend), and remind them of the importance of the follow-up appointment (if such is recommended).

  • Dictate in front of them. It's another sign to patients that you're getting them involved in their own care. It will demystify their fear about what their records contain, allow them to hear you repeat your assessment and treatment plan, and give them a chance to clarify anything you may have misunderstood about what they told you. Besides, it's always better to record the visit immediately than to do it the following day, for both time-management and risk-management reasons.

  • Set protocols for test results. If you haven't already done this, it's time to establish systems for ensuring that phone calls are returned and test results delivered in a timely manner. Patients who want to be involved in their own care don't like hearing, "If you don't hear from us, assume everything is OK." Make sure you communicate in a timely manner and track your results notification.

  • Contact patients after a major event. You know many patients are going to call you frantically following a procedure, biopsy, surgery, or hospital stay, so consider calling them first. They'll appreciate your phone call tremendously, and it's a good time to start getting patients involved in their care. During the call, discuss self-care, when and how they should follow up with you, what to expect next, and educational resources you'd recommend.

  • Offer access. Many practices I visit spend too much time managing patients over the phones. This comes with quite a price tag - I estimate every clinical call costs you $12.50, and I've seen estimates as high as $30 per call. Although a few payers are reimbursing physicians for calls, it's much better to schedule an appointment than hope that one of your payers might give you a few dollars for it, especially since an appointment is exactly what the patients usually want and need. Develop a plan to create enough access to accommodate your patients - or limit your patient demand. Just don't spend all day deflecting the patients' needs.

Patients are demanding more from their physicians. Instead of being frustrated by it, use their demands to benefit both you and your patients.

Elizabeth Woodcock, MBA, CPC, is a professional speaker and consultant specializing in practice management. Elizabeth is a Fellow in the American College of Medical Practice Executives and a Certified Professional Coder. She may be reached at elizabeth@elizabethwoodcock.com or via editor@physicianspractice.com. For more information about Elizabeth, see www.elizabethwoodcock.com.

This article originally appeared in the March 2006 issue of Physicians Practice.