Guest Column | October 30, 2017

Patient Communication Vs. Patient Education: How To Fill In The Gaps

By Jim Higgins, founder and CEO, Solutionreach

Ease Patient Sharing Information

The right approach aligns education and communication for a superior patient experience.

Most providers recognize the importance of both good patient communication and good patient education. What’s the difference? Communication is how information is shared between providers and patients, whereas education is what information is shared.

Every day, healthcare organizations aim to accomplish both, providing patients with enough information and resources to help them achieve the best outcomes, while communicating with them in compelling, comprehensive ways. Oftentimes, however, more emphasis falls on one side of the equation than the other.

For example, a physician may “educate” patients by offering instructive health information or guidelines for disease management, but fail to relay information in a clear, easy-to-understand manner. On the other hand, a physician may be a great communicator — listening to patients’ concerns with empathy, responding with answers that put them at ease — but fall short when it comes to fully explaining all of the ins and outs of the conditions patients are experiencing or the disease management steps they need to take.

Ultimately, both education and communication have a profound effect on patient outcomes. That’s why it’s essential for physicians to align them in practice. For healthcare organizations that want to do this efficiently, communications technology such as patient relationship management (PRM) tools can help bridge the gap to enable effective outreach, improved patient experience and higher rates of patient satisfaction.

Modernize Patient Outreach

As value-based care models increasingly emphasize care quality over the volume of services provided, we are starting to see more clearly that many of the old methods of education and communication no longer work.

In terms of education, the traditional method of handing patients a folder full of articles, tip sheets and handwritten notes detailing what they should do once they get home from the hospital or doctor’s office is outdated. Instead, patients need to be educated in convenient and familiar ways. Think about it: These days people access the Web from their smartphones when they want to know how to do everything from changing a tire to baking a cake. The same should hold true for healthcare.

Likewise, old methods of communication such as calling patients to schedule follow-up care are often insufficient. Efforts to connect with patients may not be effective if providers are still living in a world where they assume their healthcare group’s workflows are “good enough” for all patients. A practice that calls to schedule an appointment at 2 p.m. while the patient is in a business meeting, for example, may end up playing phone tag for a few days before they finally connect.

PRM tools can ensure the alignment of education and communication through applications that help personalize outreach and deliver it via each patient’s preferred communication method (e.g., text, email, voice). Although one common example is the use of such tools for appointment reminders, another prominent example involves e-newsletters.

Through e-newsletters, healthcare organizations can efficiently and effectively communicate messages in a compelling format, tailored to a given demographic population. Let’s say, for example, an organization wants to reach adults age 40 and older who have diabetes or are at high risk for a heart attack. E-newsletters can incorporate a mix of targeted disease- or condition-specific educational materials as well as health guidance such as nutrition information and lifestyle tips.

Get Started, Stay Connected

Understanding what makes up a good PRM strategy and implementing that strategy can improve an organization’s relationship with its patients. Still, it’s a good idea to start small. One way to do this is simply by asking each patient about their communication preferences for appointment reminders. Offer choices such as email, text or voicemail.

After learning a patient’s preferences, organizations will have the intelligence they need to educate and connect with that patient most effectively through PRM tools. If a patient who has a full-time job has expressed the desire to receive text messages, the doctor’s office could use its automated text feature to set up a text to reminder to get his blood drawn before his upcoming appointment.

Many patients already prefer to communicate with physicians via email. Therefore, moving toward digital communication methodologies is likely to have a positive effect on patient satisfaction overall.

Patient experience will only become more and more important over time, both in terms of keeping satisfaction ratings high and generating new referrals. By embracing impactful communication tools that maximize limited resources, providers could easily see benefits to both outcomes and business metrics. It just makes sense: When providers communicate clearly and educate patients in a meaningful way through familiar and convenient digital technology, everyone wins.