The Six ‘I’s of Patient Experiences: Inseparability

October 30, 2011

Strong partnerships with patients can help physicians limit variations in treatment plans, which can alter the quality of delivery and outcomes.

When you go to your local supermarket to purchase a box of cereal or a can of soda, the product’s quality is objective and measurable. The quality doesn't change from one consumer to another. This is not so with services, and in particular, the medical field. A physician can provide a perfect diagnosis and treatment plan, but the execution and compliance of that plan is left to the patient - ultimately varying the quality of its delivery and outcome. A physician can help limit these variations by creating strong partnerships with his patients.

1. Start by dropping the technical jargon. Physicians surround themselves with medical terminology. When it comes to dealing with patients, though, it's difficult to remember they don't have that same training, don't have interest in it like you do, and want to be spoken to in clear, non-clinical terms. Certain situations call for precision in your language when it comes to diagnostic evaluations and treatments, but there are ways to simplify the language to be easily understood by patients who are outside the medical field. Mastery in any field is not about the sophistication of your language; rather it's measured in terms of your ability to turn enormously complex constructs into simple ideas that even the youngest of your patients can understand and embrace. A great technique is to translate medical concepts into word pictures or anecdotes that make them more relatable to a patient. The best word pictures engage the emotions and illustrate parallel concepts from everyday activities to the medical issues you're trying to explain. When interacting with patients, develop an awareness of the language you and your staff are using and eliminate the technical terminology that is not medically necessary.

2. Provide written instructions. Whenever you’re delivering a diagnosis or treatment plan, remember that the patient has numerous thoughts running through their mind. Many of these thoughts are not rational and find their center directly in the patient's emotions. Their minds are busy relating your information to how it will change their life in terms of their relationships, their commitments, their career, etc. It's critical that you reinforce your verbal communications and instructions with the same information in a written form. This plays to the differing learning styles your patients may have, too (e.g. auditory vs. visual). Having a written record of your instructions enables patients to process the information later at their own pace. You can rally better compliance through the family, too, because your written instructions allow patients to share the substance of your consultation with a loved one or caregiver after the appointment. I experienced the power of the written instructions myself with an allergist who was treating our son. She did a very thorough job of explaining the treatment protocol and then enhanced it with a written document that repeated what she had just explained. When she was finished she sent the nurse back in to review the plan with us - giving us yet another opportunity to clarify exactly what the doctor had instructed. The quality of our son’s care was certainly increased since we didn't miss the small details from her verbal instructions; and fully grasping the concept gave us even more ownership for complying with the plan.

3. Following up helps ensure compliance. Establish a protocol in your office where you routinely follow up with your patients. You can have your nursing staff, a physician's assistant, or a nurse practitioner help you with this. A simple follow-up phone call, e-mail or letter to a patient serves as a reminder of the interaction they had with your office and the importance of them following the prescribed protocol. Patients, just like clinicians, lead busy lives and often have multiple unrelated issues to distract them. That follow-up communication connotes caring on your part and reinforces the need for the patient to do their part in their treatment plan.
The inseparable nature of medical service delivery means that a true partnership must be formed between clinician and patient. It takes effort and it takes a different set of interactions. Your patients will achieve better results, have higher levels of satisfaction toward your office, and ultimately refer others to your practice.

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