If your technology and communication aren’t up to speed, patients notice
Do your medical practice’s treatment options say “cutting edge,” but your office processes scream “old school”? While your credentials and reputation will generate some referrals, if patients’ experiences don’t match their expectations, these things won’t matter. Read on to find out how doctors’ communication, technology, and online reviews play a major role in patients’ perception of your practice.
How clear is your patient communication?
Many doctors overestimate their communication skills—a vitally important part of the patient experience. A study published in the Annals of Family Medicine analyzed hundreds of appointments after which physicians rated their communication on a questionnaire, as did patients and trained clinical raters.
There was almost no correlation between physician-reported scores and those of patients or the clinical raters. This indicates that “physicians’ perceptions of good communication during their appointments may differ from those of external peer raters and patients,” the researchers concluded. “Physicians may not be aware of how patients experience their communication practices; peer assessment of communication skills is an important approach in identifying areas for improvement.”
Doctors’ perceptions of good communication during appointments may differ from those of patients; consider different methods and tools to explain complex health topics.
You can see how this creates a problem if a doctor thinks he has clearly explained the pros and cons of a procedure, for instance, but a patient walks out the door so confused that she doesn’t follow up. Or, it could mean that a patient misunderstands post-operative instructions and has to come back in. While the doctor might think she is coming across as thorough and professional, patients might feel overwhelmed by too much information or perplexed by unfamiliar terms.
One way to check this and resolve it before the patient leaves the appointment is to use the “teach-back” technique, as we described in a recent post.
Modern treatments but outdated practices
Practice management consultant Laurie Morgan was referred to a new dentist based on his reputation. From the start, however, she was put off by his outdated and inefficient office practices. It was difficult to get through on the phone to schedule an appointment—the only option—and nothing was done electronically. Morgan’s initial perception ended up affecting her treatment decisions.
As she wrote in Physicians Practice, “When the dentist spoke with me about the importance of doing certain procedures in a ‘more modern’ (more expensive) way, it gave me pause. Was this dentist—whose office practices were stuck in the 1990s—really offering me the most advanced technical option in 2020?”
Patients may wonder if a provider whose office practices are outdated is really offering them the most advanced treatment option available today.
To put it in another context, if you are a ophthalmologist trying to communicate the value of premium IOLs to a patient seeking cataract surgery, which do you think is more effective—a verbal explanation and/or printed brochure, or an advanced vision simulator that lets you show them customized views of their current vision and possible outcomes on an iPad?
Many physicians and practice managers tell Morgan that they don’t pay attention to online patient reviews. This is a missed opportunity. “If you’re unsure whether patients are dissatisfied with office processes (or if you’re assuming everything’s fine without knowing for sure), reviews can help you get a more accurate read quickly. And a well-constructed patient survey can help you dig deeper,” she wrote.
To find out why patient reviews are so important, especially during COVID-19, read our post, Why Your Online Reviews Matter Now More Than Ever.
Fixing what you can fix
Part of projecting the best possible image of your practice is finding out what your patients want and offering it. But what if your patients or online reviews complain about things that are out of your hands? For instance, Morgan writes, “Practices also often tell me that offering technology that patients want, like online bill pay and scheduling, is just too difficult. But practice management technology continues to improve, and your vendors may be able to help you transition more smoothly than you fear.”
Technology continues to improve, and your vendors may be able to help your practice offer additional options that patients want.
As proof, Morgan points to the rapid adoption of telemedicine during the pandemic, which many practices previously thought was an insurmountable hurdle. Perhaps your patient portal had added an online payment option. Or, you might look into listing your practice on an online scheduling website or app like Zocdoc or PatientPop.
“Check in regularly with your vendor contacts to learn what additional features you can offer to add convenience for patients and make your practice run better,” Morgan suggested.