The Communication Equation: Balancing Technology with Personal Interaction in Healthcare
What were once simple concerns about a medical practitioner’s “bedside manner” have morphed into challenges relating to the entire patient communication experience. All business sectors are changing their approaches for communicating with consumers and healthcare is playing catch up. There are now patient engagement companies focusing on everything from two-way text communications to AI which assists in navigating the patient through common questions and the appointment scheduling process. Every healthcare organization is looking for the happy medium between embracing technology - including (AI) that makes interacting with patients more efficient and effective – and ensuring the “human touch” is never lost. This duel approach applies to all facets of a medical practice, including everyone from the doctor to each staff member as well as all technology.
Your engagement software and phone system, and how you manage patients’ data needs to be as service-oriented as your receptionist and staff. Health care managers must employ technology as they would an employee. If you have staffers who work well with each other and your patients, we know that adding a new staff member to the mix may not work. In this case would you jettison that new employee? Should the same be true for your technology? There has to be an understanding of where the machine stops and the human needs to pick up. This balance allows patients to decide when they want to abandon the AI or technologydriven process and move to human interactions.
At Allied Physicians Group we constantly remind our staff and practitioners that the parents and guardians of our patients are dealing with stressful situations and shouldn’t have any unnecessary or frustrating interactions. Their inquiries must be treated with compassion and concern while at the same time HIPPA and other regulations need to be adhered to, lest any trusts or laws be broken. Ensuring your patients’ satisfaction with the communication process while adhering to applicable rules and regulations requires a vision, plan and regular follow through.
It’s worth noting that the system you choose doesn’t have to be perfect as long as you can make changes based on feedback. We live in an evolving environment that requires us to adapt. However, goals that focus on positive patient interactions and efficiency remain the same. As our CEO, Dr. Kerry Fierstein, frequently states “don’t let perfection be the enemy of good.”
Foremost patient information must be kept confidential. At the same time, practitioners and staff must understand they need to interact with patient families in a clear, compassionate manner. Re-enforcing this with all staff on a consistent basis is critical. The same is true for when they communicate with each other. Managers must emphasize this often to maintain a conscious level of awareness. Again, technology should be an extension of your staff and follow the same expectations you have of a human.
There are many shiny objects in the world of healthcare technology. Take the time to figure out what you need, what questions are you trying to answer and what can you live without. Personally, we prefer to look for technology partners that are collaborative and willing to grow with us. At Allied, we pride ourselves on trying to be innovative and continuously focused on being better. You need partners who are like minded and willing to go to the whiteboard with you.
A good start in measuring the success of your technology is surveys. While there are many survey tools, make sure you customize and apply this to the areas you need feedback. Surveys and questionnaires don’t have to be complicated. Be sure to regularly follow up with your patients after their visits to ascertain what they liked (and didn’t like) about their experiences. Commit to ensuring all emails and phone messages are answered promptly. As mentioned earlier, many patients are dealing with the stress of their illness or the illness of a loved one, making them more sensitive. If their concerns aren’t addressed or acknowledged there’s a strong possibility a situation or the perception of it will worsen. The Consumer Assessment of Health Care Providers may be the reason you have a survey tool, but patient feedback should be the most important rationale. Asking a patient a question and not applying the information gleaned is a missed opportunity. At Allied, we use the survey information for continuous improvement in systems, coaching staff, and overall answering the question of “what can we learn from this experience or information.”
It’s also important for the doctors and office administrators to “get out from behind their desks” and observe the ebb and flow of the patients’ experiences. Take the time to “walk around,” watch how the work is done and engage the staffers in conversations about what works (and doesn’t work) in the process.
Conducting a survey or addressing feedback is only half the battle. Practitioners need to analyze the data collected to ascertain what’s working, how it is working and what may not be working in order to fix what needs to be corrected.
Managing and measuring your patients’ experiences is complicated. We are fortunate today that the ability to collect information has advanced. We have research, knowledge, software, mobile applications and we have identified best communications practices that when implemented effectively create a foundation for long term success. Having a focused approach with benchmarks and goals in place means your practice – and your patients - come out ahead of the game.
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