Guest Column | February 27, 2019

3 Ways To Satisfy Communication Needs — For Providers And Patients

By Jim Higgins, Solutionreach

Trial Results Summaries: Improving Patient Communications

Let’s face it, whether you are a small practice or health system, everyone in healthcare wants the same thing—to thrive and be successful. So, what is the secret to happy, satisfied patients? You know, the ones who are likely to not only return but also bring their friends and family with them. Not surprisingly, one of the secret weapons of successful healthcare organizations is on-going communication. In fact, a 2018 study from Aetna found that one of the things patients want most from their physicians is better, and more in-depth, communication.

Of course, you want to provide good communication with patients. However, have you ever wondered just how much (and what types) of communication patients want from you? In general, we can break down the types of communication patients want into three major categories: preventative communication, disease management, and billing information. And while each of these topics should be addressed during on-site visits, it is very important to make sure that you are providing information on each of these categories between visits as well. In fact, research has shown that doing so can result in better care outcomes and, ultimately, higher patient satisfaction rates. Let’s look at each of these categories in depth, along with some of the specific types of messages you can send to address these needs.

  1. Preventive care communication. More and more, patients are aware of the importance of avoiding medical problems before they occur. With the massive amount of information available at the click of a mouse (not to mention the explosion in popularity of diagnostic wearable health devices), patients are bombarded with the importance of well-health visits, screenings, and preventative care on a regular basis. It’s easy to see why patient surveys show a growing demand for early diagnosis and preventative healthcare information. Healthcare organizations can reach out to patients to help. To address preventative care needs, make sure you are sending the following types of messages using the patient’s preferred communication method (i.e., text or email):
  • preventative testing/service reminders and recommendations like mammograms, flu shots, annual vision screening
  • visit reminders with appointment details that help ensure patients show up for visits prepared (i.e., be sure to fast after 8 pm)
  • general preventive care and wellness education on topics like healthy diet, exercise, and sunscreen use
  1. Disease management. We’ve all heard the sobering statistics regarding chronic health in the U.S. Nearly half, or 133 million Americans, have at least one chronic disease. Chronic diseases are responsible for 70 percent of deaths in the United States. More than 80 percent of hospital admissions, 91 percent of prescriptions filled, and 76 percent of physician visits are due to a chronic condition. The good news is that many chronic diseases can be prevented, delayed, or alleviated through specific lifestyle changes. That is why chronic care patients are much more likely to have successful outcomes and follow the care guidelines laid out for them by their health professionals, if they receive regular communication related specifically to their condition. Healthcare organizations should reach out to patients between visits with things like:
  • personalized recommendations and education such as diabetes or heart health newsletters
  • health goal information
  • medication and lab test reminders
  • monitoring surveys
  1. Billing information. Today’s patients are paying more and more out-of-pocket for their healthcare. In fact, research shows that costs for the average medical visit, ER trip, hospital admission, and prescription drugs have all risen (by an average of 30 percent) since 2015. This is not only financially painful but also can be confusing for the average patient. That’s why patients need billing communication to go beyond the average paper bill. Fortunately, organizations can now easily send:
  • patient financial policies and information on understanding the billing process
  • changes to insurance or billing procedures or new payment options
  • simple billing reminders through text and email

Technology Addresses The Communication Challenge

At first glance, communicating with patients so frequently and with such depth can seem daunting. Moreover, without the proper tools in place, it would be too cumbersome and complicated to accomplish. Fortunately, with modern technology (like text message, email, chatbots, and more), it is possible to reach out to patients without adding a tremendous workload to the healthcare organization. How? Patient communication tools allow for communication that is both automated and customizable.

It is simply not possible for a healthcare organization to manually reach out to every patient. That is why automation of communication is critical. Some organizations shy away from automated messaging, thinking that it is too impersonal. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, automation puts patient needs at the top of the priority list. Automation ensures that not a single patient is lost in the shuffle of daily business.

In addition to automating communication, today’s patients expect communication to be personalized. In order to address the different healthcare conditions of patients, it is important that a patient communication tool can categorize patients (and send communication) based on different chronic conditions. By grouping all patients with diabetes, for example, a healthcare organization can send out recommendations and education that are directed toward those patients.

Research shows that there is a direct correlation between a healthcare organization’s communication skills and a patient’s overall health and satisfaction levels. Fortunately, through the use of modern technology, it is possible to give patients the type of communication they want without overextending your healthcare organization.

About The Author

Jim Higgins is the CEO and founder of Solutionreach. Since 2000, Higgins has innovated and guided the direction of the Solutionreach technology to meet all patient relation management needs of dental, vision, plastic surgery and medical practice specialties.