Time becomes an ever-more precious commodity with our all-day and all-night availability on mobile communication devices. In addition, many more required tasks have been added to our daily activities in the hospital and office that take time away from our direct face-to-face communication with patients. This can be damaging to the physician-patient relationship and contribute to physician stress.
Since a growing amount of physician time is consumed by information technology, this may offer solutions to improve the physician-patient relationship. In this article I will share my techniques to improve interactions with patients and enhance mutual satisfaction to achieve better health outcomes.
My interactions with new patients begin before our meeting face-to-face. My practice’s website contains background information about the physicians, facilities, location and contact information for providers including phone, facsimile numbers and email addresses. Registration forms are available to be completed and submitted online or printed out, completed on paper and mailed or brought to the initial office visit.
Important patient contact information includes the patient’s preferred methods of communication: home and work phone, cellular phone and facsimile numbers, and e-mail addresses. Medical and surgical history, allergy, primary care or referral physician, and pharmacy contact information also is collected.
Obtaining this information before the patient’s visit saves time and improves office flow efficiency at the initial visit. This contact information is used to send reminders for follow-up visits, communications about health questions and to refill prescription medication electronically for better patient compliance and convenience.
My policy is to respond to all phone calls or electronic correspondence within one working day. Inefficiencies in office operations, unnecessary inconveniences and delayed responses to inquiries can reduce a patient’s confidence in a physician.
After the patient has registered at the front desk, the patient can watch health educational videos until called by my assistant for a preliminary examination that is recorded in an electronic health record (EHR) system. When I enter the room, I introduce myself looking directly at the patient, greet him or her with a smile and shake hands. Then I upload the EHR onto the desktop computer with a large screen facing the patient so that the patient can see what I am seeing and doing.
Then I clean my hands in front of the patient and inquire about the details of the chief complaint and history of present illness. I enter this data into the EHR and encourage the patient to verify the accuracy of the information and correct any details. I do not use a scribe to enter this data into the EHR while I am talking to the patient because I have found that it interferes with my connection and communication with the patient, can be confusing when I talk to the scribe and patient at the same time, and can create inaccuracies in the information entered into the EHR.
After the review of systems has been entered and verified, I perform my physical examination. Before I actually perform different parts of the examination I describe to the patient what I am about to do to avoid unnecessary surprises and reduce anxiety. After completing the physical examination, I enter the information into the EHR as I verbally describe my findings to the patient in language understandable to the layperson.