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Three patient communication mistakes you might be making

You may pride yourself on maintaining excellent clinical skills. However, have you taken a hard look at your communication skills lately?

“Soft” communication skills are often either overlooked or downplayed in therapy over clinical skills. However, they are arguably a key deciding factor in your patient’s satisfaction and outcomes— and ultimately your professional and financial success.

Three Common Communication Mistakes

Yet, in the busy moment of your workday, it is often hard to take a step back and ask, “what is missing in our patient communications and how can it improve?”  To make it easier to think about, we’ve whittled down a few common gaps in patient communications.

Treating the case, not the person

As a therapist, you may treat similar injuries or conditions daily, almost to the point that creating the treatment plans become routine. However, remember what’s routine to you is personal to the individual who comes into your clinic for treatment. They can be experiencing pain or feeling scared, anxious or uncertain about what their future function will be and how this will impact their life.  Step away from the case file and listen patiently and empathetically to hear the patient’s story so you understand what they are going through and what’s important to them.  In doing so, you’ll build understanding and trust, which will go a long way in treating both the physical and emotional side of the patient.

Extensive research has shown that no matter how knowledgeable or technically proficient a clinician might be, if you can’t communicate and connect with patients, you might not be much help to them. When patients feel they’ve been heard and taken seriously, they are more likely to engage with you and in their treatment. Bottom line: don’t just talk at patients; create a dialog with them.

Not consistently communicating every step of the way

In a previous blog, John Woolf discussed his rules for patient engagement and how communication impacts your patient’s perception of your practice and ultimately patient outcomes. When was the last time you audited all of the patient communication touchpoints within your practice? Good communication starts from the moment a patient interacts with your practice and includes both verbal and non-verbal communications.

Do an assessment of how well you and your practice are delivering professional and consistent communications. Ask yourself these questions:

  • Is your practice easy to find?
  • How are people greeted?
  • Is your reception area welcoming?
  • Is patient registration easy?
  • Do patients understand their financial obligations and your billing and collection processes?
  • Do your facilities have a logical flow?
  • Is your equipment clean and well kept?
  • What kind of educational tools and home exercise programs do you provide to help patients outside your clinic?
  • Do you send out satisfaction surveys?
  • How are you following up with patients after discharge?

Individually and together these tell a story about you, your practice and the quality of care you deliver. Together these build your brand and are key to marketing your practice and selling your value. When you look at communications from that standpoint, you should be doing your best to communicate every step of the way to engage, educate and build a trusting relationship with patients.

Not meeting your patients where they “live”

Are you providing the 85-year-old with arthritis in her knees the same types of communications you are providing the 25-year-old who just tore their meniscus?  An 85-year-old and a millennial probably are likely to have different communication needs and have different comfort levels with technology. For example, a millennial may do everything on their mobile device, including wanting home exercise programs delivered there.  An 85-year-old might be more comfortable with paper printouts of their exercises.  Be flexible within your practice communication styles and meet your patients at their level of tech comfort.

Technology and Tools to Make It Easy

Technology can play a huge role in improving communications between therapists and patients.  It also can make it much easier and efficient for therapy practice staff to deliver their services and market your practice.  Your EMR can play a central role in this by helping you deliver fast, efficient and consistent communications to your patients.  This can be anything from delivering automated appointment reminders to enabling the front desk to give patient’s accurate information about their financial responsibility, to documenting the plan of care and sending out professional follow up correspondence from therapists after patients are discharged. Patient engagement tools can take this another step, helping keep patients connected and engaged in their treatment when they are not in your clinic.

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