In New York City May 6, 2003, a Commonwealth Fund/Harvard/Harris Interactive survey of patients with health problems in the United States and four other industrialized countries revealed disturbingly high rates of medical errors, lack of coordination in patient care, and poor communication between doctors and patients. The survey stated that U.S. patients were more likely than those in the other countries to report communication difficulties with their physicians. Three of 10 respondents in the U.S. said they left a doctors office without getting important questions answered.
The fact is patients leave doctors’ offices everyday without having their questions answered. They do not have an understanding what their diagnosis is, how they got it and what will be done to cure it. Many times they never return after the initial encounter because they left the office feeling that they were not heard or understood and there was a lack of care for them while they were there.
Communication matters. You do not have to be the sharpest crayon in the box to understand this. It is the desire for all humans to understand and to be understood. In our practices today patient/staff, patient/physician and physician/staff communication is a necessity, not an option. Communication is a skill and an art; it can be learned and mastered. It must be done if we are to develop successful relationships with our patients and those we work with.
According to the Bayer Institute for Health Care communicating effectively with patients can be broken down into a process that includes these communication skills.
Engagement: This is the connection between the patient and office staff or doctor for the duration of the patient’s office encounter. This is the opportunity for the doctor and the staff to engage the patient by listening attentively to them, answering their questions honestly and creating a bond between patient/doctor and patient/staff that will continue to grow with each encounter. This is where the rubber meets the road as far as building trusting relationships where the patient feels that they are genuinely cared about and their best interest is the main concern.
Empathy: People can tell whether you are sincere or not. If your patient feels and believes that you have seen, heard and accepted them you and your office staff will have earned their trust. Many times staff and doctors alike will treat the patients they see as just “another patient” and not as an individual that deserves individual attention.
Take time to listen to each patient, acknowledging their individual problem, even though you have seen a thousand cases with the same diagnosis. Encourage your patients to talk about themselves and who they are. This may take an extra minute or two but the connection you or your staff will make with this individual will be well worth it.
Always remember the “Golden Rule” and treat others how you would want to be treated”.
Education: In order to provide education for our patients, you must make sure that your staff is educated in every area of podiatric medical care. It is a well known fact that the medical assistant spends approximately more than three times the amount of time with the patient than the physician. So who also needs to be educated? Making sure your office staff is well educated is an investment you must make. Your office staff is the first encounter that your patients have with your office. They represent you and what you can do for the patient. Education is the key to providing the best for not only your patients but those valuable assets “your employees”.
Listen to what is being said in your practice to your patients, other staff members, vendors, and other physician’s offices by your staff members. Do they represent what you stand for and want to provide? Are your staff members able to communicate effectively to your patients? Do they have the education that they need to be able to do this to your satisfaction?
Enlistment: Is about you the doctor asking the patient to collaborate with you in their medical treatment. Once the patient becomes a part of the process they will want to understand what has happened to them and what can be done to make it better. It becomes a partnership in creating successful treatment outcomes. The patient will feel that you the doctor have heard them because you want them to participate in their treatment. They will feel that you care because you have taken time with them and are willing to collaborate regarding their problem. This is not always as easy as it sounds. Not all patients are willing to comply with their treatment protocols and their outcomes show this. Non-adherence is a big problem and there are several factors that play into this.
Ultimately we want to create the win-win situation for our patients, staff and physicians. Effective communication will play a big part in making this happen. Take the time to listen to what is being said in your office. But not only what is being said, but how it is being said and what is being interpreted by what is being said.
Our patients are our livelihood and we are in our offices to be there for them. Don’t they deserve the best when they walk in our doors?
Originally said in 1925 by Dr. Francis W. Peabody, “… For the secret of the care of the patient is in caring for the patient. ” The patient must occupy center stage in the doctor patient visit. Any activity that shifts that focus may harm the therapeutic relationship”.