physician patient communicationWhen was the last time your doctor recommended setting reminders on your smartphone, or walked you though how to use their mobile app for FAQs? Communication breakdowns are not only costly for providers, but dangerous for your patients. A recent CRICO study found poor physician-patient communication contributed to nearly 2,000 deaths, and $1.7 billion in malpractice claims over the course of five years.

Reminding a patient to stop eating the night of surgery may be communicated, but these messages are often falling on deaf ears. For example, groups like millennial males are more prone to lack pre-surgery education, which is influencing outcomes according to Gallup.

To make connecting with patients easier, we’ve identified three steps to improve your current process:

1. Identify the source of the breakdown

The same CRICO study analyzed 7,000 malpractice claims caused by poor physician-patient communication and the results were telling.  A few causes of these negative outcomes were:

  • Incomplete follow-up instructions
  • Inadequate education
  • Language barriers
  • Poor documentation

If resources are limited,  implementing a mammoth IT system to solve every communication problem may not be feasible.  Less complicated technology solutions are proving to be much more efficient for solving simple problems, and a lot more affordable.

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2.  Experiment with new communication methods

Outside of body language and verbal communication – like looking patients in the eye, introducing yourself, or expressing empathy – Information technology could play a vital role in patent physician communication when used effectively.  A few modern solutions we’re beginning to see are:

  • Patient communication surveys
  • Email and SMS messaging
  • In-app feedback like ask-a-doc and form submissions
  • In-app reviews

The truth is, the most common follow up method among physicians is no contact at all, according to Technology Advice.  While traditional methods like phone calls are common, patients 18-24  prefer to use an online calendar, a preference hospitals are just beginning to respond to.

physician follow upSource: Technology Advice

3. Discuss mHealth devices patients might be using

With 62 percent of US adults owning smartphones, finding an excuse to discuss mobile apps isn’t too hard these days.  Wearables like the Apple Watch are on patients’ minds too, and have found to be a more recent topic of discussion. Like many, you may see apps as simply a way to promote your healthcare system’s services, or only as an extension of an online web portal.  Here are a few new ideas we’re seeing from hospitals that you may not be aware of:

  • Apps for pre-op and post-op – Doctors walk patients through what to expect before and after surgery, including checklists, packing information, and how to set up appointment reminders.
  • Apps for managing a health condition – Want to share heart-healthy recipes with a cardiac patient? You could try brochures or pamphlets, but they are likely to go missing or simply thrown away.  Apps are great for patients that need to access information quickly.

In my own experiences, some clinicians go above and beyond to make a connection or provide resources, while others simply provide a brief diagnosis and answer a few questions.  It’s what happens after the exam room that matters to me.  How do I view lab results? What can I expect in the future?  Answers to follow-up questions can sometimes be inconvenient or difficult to ascertain quickly from a mobile device.

As tech changes the way clinicians interact with patients, keep an eye on topics like wearables and mobile apps as they enter the conversation.  With innovation at a tipping point in healthcare, how will you respond?

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