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26 May Communication with Patients in a Digital-Health Age


Good patient Communication is Part of the Healing Process

 

We all know that communication skills are crucial to any personal interaction we have in our lives. From romantic relationships to gossip, our communication skills, more than any other factor, determine how people respond to us. When dealing with long-distance clinical health care, verbal communication becomes your only means of interaction with your patients. Clearly delivering your  messaging will help your patients understand the triage, recommendations and care advice they receive, and is therefore essential for patient health and well-being.

 

Strengthening Your Patient Communication Skills

 

On the other hand, communication failure is responsible for blocking the implementation of medical care initiated by the patient. Ineffective communication leads to revenue losses, frustrated patients and negative word of mouth. A solid medical messaging platform that repeats and amplifies what you've heard on the phone will help you communicate effectively with your Patients.

 

Keep reading to learn more about the following:

 

• Good Patient Communication is Teachable
• Active Listening in Digital Health
• 6 Steps to Establish Patient Rapport
• 4 Tips for the Hard of Hearing Patients
• 3 Ways to Slow Down
• Thick-skinned Cultural Sensitivity
• No Medical Jargon!
• Confident Patient Interviewing

 

Good PATIENT Communication is Teachable

The benefits of great patient communication for most people do not arise without developing a solid toolbox of effective patient communication skills and channels. These skills are incredibly valuable and can be taught.

It is best to start with something that is easy to implement and has the greatest impact on profits. Most telehealth companies find that the simplest gains are focused on improving a patient's experience when they call their practice.

Whether one is aware of it or not, the telephone can feel like an outdated form of communication. One study concluded that telephone calls are still the primary channel for patient communication, with social media channels handling only 3% of patient communication, compared to 68% of patient service contact over the phone. This means that in a tech-savvy world, the telephone is still one of the most important means of communication between a doctor's office and its patients. With that in mind, here are some of the easiest and most effective ways to improve patient experience and communication on the telephone, so that business can grow and patient satisfaction can improve.

 


Use Active Listening IN DIGITAL HEALTH to be Completely Present

If you are distracted during a conversation, you may find it difficult to focus on the patient and what they're trying to say. For example, you might be thinking about your reaction to what they say and not really listening to them.

By freeing your mind from inner chatter, you are able to be more present and understanding. Active listening shows your patient that you are interested in them and understand what they are trying to communicate. The patient-coach relationship is a conversation from which the patient should benefit. They pay for your services and they pay you to listen to them.

 

8 Tips for Active Listening


Six Steps to Establish Patient Rapport

Rapport can help your patient to get the most out of your interactions. Note that the key to rapport is adapting to your patient. Always start by clearly stating your role and that you wish to be helpful.

Artboard 19@3x Questions about common hurdles

"How are you handling all the rain lately?"

Artboard 11@3x-1 Comment on mutual interest

e.g. "Go Sports Team!"

Artboard 21@3x Use formal, respectful language

This is particularly true in written form – over chat, email, and secure message, but even over telephone and telemedicine visits. This validates the patient and their experience when most grew up in a culture where formality equaled politeness.

Artboard 13@3x-1 Use proper forms of address

Don’t underestimate the value of Mr., Mrs., Miss, doctor, minister and other formal titles. These go a long way to validating the patient and their experience.

 

One of the first things taught in patient service training is simple, but crucial for patient retention: You are not ever to refer to your patients by cute nicknames. 

 

Depersonalization does not have a place in health care, but we give it one when we fail to call a person by their rightful name.  Knowingly calling a doctor “Mr.” or “Ms.” is an implicit invalidation of their training, particularly when it is pointedly directed at minority or female physicians.  For the dying infant or child, never referring to them by name affirms the parent’s fear that their child will never have impact beyond the boundaries of the family.

 

This is a big problem with a little fix — the next time you see a patient, check the chart & recognize them by using their appropriate name & salutation.

Artboard 23@3x Warm and confident tone

“Don’t worry, I will help you through your issue.”

 

There is a fascinating body of research on the qualities patients consider to be essential in an excellent provider. Among those qualities, self-confidence often ranks high. Why? Not unexpectedly, self-confidence in a physician tends to engender trust in the patient. Patients must put their lives in the hands of strangers, and they need to know those physicians and nurses know what they’re doing.

Artboard 30@3x-1 Perceptive questions about them, based on active listening

For example: “you sound tired.”

 


4 Tips for Communicating With the Hard of Hearing Patients

Identify Your Patient's Hearing Difficulty Quickly

Hearing loss is a common problem that can be caused by noise, aging, disease or inheritance. People with hearing loss may have difficulty talking to friends and family, hearing alarms or doorbells. and may have difficulty understanding a doctor's advice.

One in three people between the ages of 65 and 74 has hearing loss, and about half of those over 75 have hearing difficulties. Some people do not want to admit that they have difficulty hearing. If a patient asks to repeat you or does something more than once, you should consider the possibility that their hearing is affected.

For a variety of reasons, many people hard of hearing do not inform others about their hearing loss, making it invisible to others. Deafness can range from mild difficulty hearing and understanding soft sounds to a deep inability to hear loud noises. Older adults with sensory impairments frequently also have impaired communication skills. As a result, vision and hearing problems must be treated and taken into account in communication.

Artboard 19@3x Speak slower not louder

If you need to speak, don't shout. When people learn that a listener is hard of hearing, they often start screaming into the phone to be heard. When people shout into a phone when another person in the same room is wearing a hearing aid, the sound is distorted as if it came from a device like a hearing aid and the words are harder to understand than if they were spoken in normal tone.

Artboard 11@3x-1 Ask the patient to repeat things back to you

Asking for the specific information you have given out: “Just to make sure we have this all correct, can you read back to me the address you’ve just written down?” or “Help me clarify these steps. Who is the first person you are going to contact, and their phone number?” “Ok, now tell me your next step.”

Artboard 21@3x Voicemail tip 1: Keep it Short

Be careful when you leave a phone message to a hard of hearing person. Avoid leaving a long message on the answering machine or providing important or detailed information in a long message. Some people have difficulty understanding a phone message  since they can't ask for explanations or clarifications during the conversation. Brevity helps eliminate these issues.

Artboard 13@3x-1 Voicemail tip 2: Spell it out slower not louder

Speak clearly and state the name of the caller, then spell it out. Then give work affiliation and a phone number to call back. Please give a pause between each number. Most of us give out our number so often that we run the sounds together. If you repeat the phone number a second time in your message, you double your chances of being understood: “Again, my phone number is…”

 


3 Ways to Slow Down

 

Patients may feel aggrieved and believe they are not being heard when rushed. This is true for elderly patients in particular. Hurrying elderly patients also reinforces a negative tendency to rush past health complaints, when it's actually the best time to bring them up.

The first thing to realize is that you are dealing with a human being. As such, you are dealing with people of all backgrounds -- some of which can be rude or narcissistic.

This means that you can only be successful with patient care if you demonstrate patience and great patient retention skills. If the patients are satisfied and satisfied with your services, they will recommend you.

If you notice that you are cutting off the other person, stop. Give them enough space to talk and let them finish first. To prevent you from interrupting and starting to listen, try these three tips to get better and more-accurate information from patient conversations and connect with them at a deeper level.

Artboard 19@3x Take Notes

This is a simple solution that pays off in your personal practice. Try to write down what the other person has said. This will distract you from stepping in and making sure you don't forget the point you want to make or the question you wanted to ask.

Artboard 11@3x-1 Focus on Your Breath

When we are in a tense conversation and feel criticized, our heart rate rises and we go into fight-or-flight mode. Interruption becomes a way to defend ourselves. A good strategy is to concentrate on the physical: breathing. This can not only avoid the unpleasant interruption, but also responds to being more thoughtful and grounded.

By focusing on your breathing, you are less likely to cut in. It is a simple technique, but you would be surprised how it allows you to concentrate and listen. After each breath, the heart rate slows down.

Artboard 21@3x Pretend You're Interviewing the Patient

When reporters and filmmakers interview people, they don't interrupt them because it ruins the recording. No one wants to hear a reporter talk about an interviewee. Likewise, you should refrain from asking follow-up questions until the other person is done with what they have to say.

A pause is not an opening to respond. Think of the pause as an invitation to be patient and listen while the patient completes their thoughts.


Thick-Skinned Cultural Sensitivity

You can’t assume you know more about the patient than you do. for example, it is easy to start making assumptions about the caller's level of health literacy based on the way they speak. Their health conditions are certainly likely to be more present and more diverse! But not always. Consider incorporating sensitivity training as a key component of your telehealth training.

Artboard 19@3x It’s the only way to build rapport

Nothing destroys trust like offending the patient. With a lack of trust, comes a lack of comprehension, a lack of follow-through, and worse patient outcomes.

Artboard 11@3x-1 Increase reputation

Issues of intolerance make for terrible PR. Any healthcare organization needs to maintain a good reputation within the community.

 

Artboard 21@3x It can ultimately save money

There is an initial fee for sensitivity training. However, it can save you a lot of money down the road in onboarding new employees, lawsuits & sales. Think of the long term.

 

Artboard 13@3x-1 Don’t expect sensitivity back

You and your staff will be mistreated by patients. This is just as inevitable as death and taxes. Part of sensitivity training is to not be sensitive to the rudeness and insensitivity of the patient.

Artboard 23@3x It’s the right thing to do

The bottom line is that it is the right thing to do.


Avoid MEDICAL Jargon!

Assume that your patients will NOT know the medical terminology, even the ones that are relatively commonplace. It might be tempting to introduce “MRI, CAT scan, stress test” or other terms your work delivers every day. But slowing down to explain each one helps build their confidence, remove their fear and educates them in the process.

 

Spell out words for them. Especially if they need to give information to a provider or nurse later (e.g. at their appointment), then you should spell out words like “mammogram,” “viral,” and “diagnosis.”


Confident PatIENT Interviewing

One of the fundamental aspects of a successful patient relationship management is the relationship the representative establishes with the patient. This relationship requires a strong combination of confidence and charisma. What was once called bedside manner and considered a matter of etiquette and personal style is more important and harder to convey when remote. The definition, as a result, needs to be expanded to incorporate webside manner and telecharisma.

 

Since most medical activities involve the constant need for diagnostic and therapeutic decision-making, call agents cannot do their job without a degree of self-assurance. For this reason, it is important to convey confidence.

 

Older patients initiate the majority of health requests, and tend to have an increased respect for doctors. They don't want to waste time telling nurses and doctors what they think is unimportant. Elder patients are also often afraid of diagnosis and treatment. They fear doctors will recommend surgery or propose costly diagnostic tests and drugs. They also fear that they are complaining too much about trivial issues that they cannot take seriously.

On the other hand, some older patients have a lot of free time and interest in bringing popular medical articles to the attention of their providers.  This kind of active-patient involvement provides an opportunity for communication.

 

It is important to be tolerant with patients and continue to prod for more information. One of the more fundamental aspects of successful patient relationship management & patient loyalty is the rapport your clinicians and call representatives build with patients. By instilling everyone with appropriate patient service techniques enables telehealth to succeed to work in a purposeful manner. The result is increased trust, better outcomes.

 


For more information on these topics, check out the following resources:

8 Tips for Active Listening

Best Soft Practices for Nursing Triage Interview

7 Ways to Tick Off Telehealth Patients
5 Steps to Turn Around Patient Anger
7 Barriers to Effective Communication


About Keona Health

We at Keona Health believe you can only improve the patient experience by improving your team experience. The flagship product, Health Desk, a Healthcare CRM and Patient Access platform provides best care to patients and superior tools for those who serve patients. Purpose built to provide flexibility with differing workflows, the Health Desk platform unifies data from multiple sources allowing health providers to deliver effortless, consistent and personalized service and support through a single timeline view.

Posted by Ryan Hunt

Ryan Hunt
With over a decade of success in strategy-based digital development and analytics for leading organizations, Ryan joined Keona Health to help build the marketing department as the Marketing Manager in 2018. He has developed, optimized, and managed countless websites and software systems in both the public and private sector, from the U.S. Department of Defense and House of Representatives to the National Institute of Health, the U.S. Census Bureau, Hilton Worldwide, and AARP. Ryan received his BS in Computer Science with Minors in Mathematical Science and Business at the University of Kentucky before beginning his career in Washington D.C. and became a Kentucky Colonel in 2013.

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