As a physician, one of the most rewarding parts of my job is building relationships with my patients. In developing this connection, I’m able to better understand their healthcare challenges and frustrations, which enables me to ultimately help them achieve their health goals.
But establishing strong patient engagement is getting harder, in part due to the ever-changing regulations and daily demands we as physicians must manage.
Consider this: During a 20-minute appointment, physicians spend only about 12 minutes interacting with the patient and 8 minutes documenting their visit on the electronic health record (EHR). Once the patient leaves, we spend another 11 minutes completing documentation in an effort to keep up with payer demands and comply with other requirements.
While healthcare tech — in the forms of EHRs, patient portals, secure messaging, or mobile apps — are proven to help foster stronger connections between physicians and patients, it’s the personal touch, the solid relationship between the patient and the provider, that’s most important.
Building a trusted relationship: The patient <> provider connection
Despite best intentions, many healthcare practices fail to provide solid patient experiences. Considering today’s healthcare environment where individuals now foot more of their healthcare bill than ever before, patients are seeking greater value and convenience for their money.
According to a recent study, nearly half of all healthcare consumers are frustrated with their healthcare experiences. Why? Because there is a gap in perception between providers and consumers on the quality of experience currently being provided.
To overcome this disconnect, let’s go back to the basics. As a child, you’re taught that it’s proper etiquette to shake someone’s hand and look them in the eyes when speaking with them. This is true for physicians as well.
The first step in building better relationships with patients is to make eye contact with them. In fact, a recent JAMA study found that patients equate engagement with eye contact from the provider. As simple as this seems, many physicians (myself included) sometimes struggle with this due to the fact that we are heads down in our technology systems.
However, eye contact is a powerful form of nonverbal communication and shows our patients that we are giving them our undivided attention. Trust me — patients notice whether or not their doctors make eye contact. If we are constantly looking at our computer or tablet during an office visit, the patient automatically feels the disconnect and will rate their overall healthcare experience much lower.
Overcoming the pitfalls of technology to improve the patient experience
While the human element in healthcare is of paramount importance, there is still a role for patient engagement technology, which can enhance and strengthen our personal relationships with patients. However, practices must make sure these tools are integrated and operate seamlessly. While patient engagement technologies look great on paper, when put into practice, they often require patients to use different apps or access a variety of unconnected systems.
Portals are one of the most common technologies that can be used to engage patients. However, research shows that more than 56% of patients have said they’ve never been encouraged to use an online medical record by practice staff, and 47% of patients offered access to a portal have never viewed their health info. In addition to making patients aware that these technologies exist, it’s also crucial to discuss the benefits of patient portals, such as simplified processes for refilling prescriptions, scheduling appointments, reviewing health information, and more.
Fostering a successful technology-enabled patient engagement strategy
While it’s true that it takes both people and software to truly engage patients, applications of patient engagement technology can be successful when enabled by a compassionate and sincere strategy. Some key considerations when implementing these technologies include:
Focus on the patient – Don’t just seek cool features in a technology tool. Look through the lens of the patient and consider how the solution may make them more comfortable, how it can improve their quality of life, or how the tech can simplify the way the patient communicates with you. For example, an automated messaging solution may seem successful because it increases front office efficiency, but if patients get frustrated when interacting with the system, your implementation may ultimately be a failure.
Set goals – Evaluate where you are, then set meaningful and attainable goals related to technology implementation. For example, if your practice has a 20% no show rate and you adopt an automated patient reminder system with a goal to cut that by 10%, be sure to review results after implementation to measure success and guide necessary changes to the automated workflows.
Educate and engage your staff – Once a new technology system is implemented, ensure that your staff understands how it works and that they are comfortable in promoting the benefits to patients. Help your customer base understand exactly how the solution can better meet their needs. Ultimately, this will increase utilization and patient satisfaction.
Work with a vendor who cares – Understand how your technology partner is investing in patient engagement and whether the tools and improvements they provide support meaningful patient interactions. Don't be afraid to collaborate with the vendor to better tailor solutions to meet the unique needs of your patients. Finally, ensure you are working with a vendor who can meet your practices needs now, but into the future as well. This is especially important as our industry — and patient expectations — continue to change.
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About the author
Chief Medical Officer Dr. Geeta Nayyar is a nationally recognized leader in health information technology, bringing the physician’s perspective to Greenway Health’s services and solutions. Before joining Greenway, she was chief healthcare and innovation officer at Femwell Group Health, Inc., one of the largest management services organizations in Florida. During her tenure, Dr. Nayyar was instrumental in creating and launching innovations around physician and patient engagement technologies. She is also the former CMIO for AT&T. Dr. Nayyar earned her Doctor of Medicine and Bachelor of Science degrees from the University of Miami, and a Master of Business Administration from The George Washington University. She is an Assistant Clinical Professor of Medicine at Florida International University where she maintains an active Rheumatology practice.