Want better outcomes? Improve patient communication

September 9, 2019

There are communication breakdowns happening throughout the entire continuum of care. Is technology the solution?

Healthcare and technology. They’re a match made in heaven. In fact, the industry boasts some of the most advanced technologies and scientific breakthroughs available today. Ideas that would have once seemed like science fiction have become reality. We’ve got Artificial Intelligence (AI), 3D printing of medical devices or biological materials, robotic-assisted surgeries, remote health tracking, virtual reality…the list goes on and on. 
Unfortunately, medical organizations often fail to take advantage of technology in one of the most basic (but important) of its processes: communication. Traditional processes often create critical communication gaps that hurt collaboration, care, and-ultimately-outcomes. There are communication breakdowns happening throughout the entire continuum of care. Just as small holes in a ship can eventually lead to a catastrophic sinking, small holes in your communication can sink your practice as well.

It’s important to continually inspect your “medical ship” and see if you have any gaps that may eventually become big problems. By arming your practice with the latest communication advancements in technology, you can alleviate these problems and develop a strong continuum of care experience (and bring that ship safely home!).

What leads to communication gaps?
Between rising deductibles, increased competition, and falling reimbursement levels, medical practices have recently been tightening their belts to pay for overhead, staff, and simply keeping the doors open. As a result, many practices have been forced to schedule as many appointments as possible in a single day.

The average physician sees around 21 patients in a single day-leaving a total of just 10-15 minutes per patient. Unfortunately, this means that there isn’t a lot of time for meaningful communication. On average, patients have just 11 seconds to explain the purpose of their visit before a physician interrupts. This rushed experience can inadvertently lead to patients being ushered out before fulling understanding their diagnosis or treatment plan-ultimately leading to poor outcomes and patient dissatisfaction. One big hole in patient communication is the expectation that all necessary communication will take place during those rushed few minutes.

Look to technology to fill these gaps
Cutting-edge technology can improve the communication process before and after an appointment. Today’s modern society is accustomed to using technology to communicate. Take chatbots, for example.

Once upon a time, having a website was all you needed to communicate online. That is no longer true. Today virtual chatbots can be a stop-gap for communication between you and the patient. These bots use artificial intelligence to answer some of the most common questions patients have. If the bot is unable to answer the question, that patient is then handed off to your office. The best thing about chatbots is that they are so sophisticated today that the majority of patients will never know that they were speaking with AI.

Another great technology that often gets forgotten is text messaging. Practices often send out appointment reminders to patients via text, but it is much less common to regularly talk back and forth. Today, there are a variety of technological tools that allow you to easily communicate with patients through text message, no matter where you are (stuck in a boring meeting, for example). The best part is that technology has advanced to a point where these conversations can be compliant with regulations like HIPAA.

Automated outreach between visits is another key to boosting communication with patients. Whether through newsletters or social media, technology has given us the ability to automate a significant amount of communication. Newsletter templates can be personalized to your practice and then scheduled to automatically be sent to patients. Likewise, you are now able to sit down and schedule out social media posts as far in advance as you want. Through these touchpoints, you can remind patients of the kinds of things they should be doing to improve their health.

Don’t forget internal communication
Studies show that poor communication among practice staff can be just as detrimental to health outcomes as poor patient communication. When staff members fail to effectively communicate with one another, inefficiencies and mistakes are the result. It’s easy to see why 96 percent of healthcare executives say that poor intra-office collaboration leads to mistakes within their organizations and two-thirds of employees say that their colleagues could help them do their job better.

With today’s intra-office communication technology available, communication between staff members is far easier. Medical practices have options that include things like custom chat rooms, direct messaging, notifications, photo sharing, and so on. Instead of needing to hunt down coworkers, staff can now simply shoot off a quick message and get a reply. Implementing these technological platforms helps staff members share their expertise with one another easily and efficiently, reducing the number of mistakes and miscommunication that would otherwise take place. 

As patients become more and more discerning when it comes to their health, practices need to take a serious look at where they may be lacking. Communication is one of those crucial areas that is often overlooked. Taking advantage of the technology solutions offered today when it comes to communication can improve patient outcomes, leading to happier patients, higher retention rates, fewer malpractice suits, and a healthier bottom line.

Josh Weiner is president and chief operating officer of Solutionreach.