I get it. It’s not rocket science. But sometimes everyone in the field of medicine needs a bit of a refresher when it comes to keeping our patients happy.
After all, it’s a two-way street with medical providers and patients: we provide and support ways to improve and maintain the personal health of our patients while our patients provide and support the health of our careers and livelihood. We depend on our patients as much as they depend on us.
That said, I’m not declaring a necessity for all medical groups to drop everything and create an incentivized program to increase patient approval. I’m simply suggesting that there are natural communication tools that we as health care providers should consciously utilize when interacting with patients to enhance the patient experience.
1. Know your patients’ names and interests. Bring them up often. Already an underwhelming start, I know. But consider this: in the past year, I’ve had multiple patients feel the need to show their appreciation for “not being treated like a medical record number.” This should never have to occur in the first place.
It’s true that in a busy office or hospital practice it can be difficult to consider anything other than how to best treat complex physical ailments in an efficient, effective and safe manner. Even so, nobody, especially those who may already feel disregarded in their community for being chronically ill, should feel emotionally brushed aside by those responsible for their overall health.
Despite the limited amount of time in our work, simply starting and ending most bedside or office visits by voicing the patients name and perhaps a brief inquiry into their career, hobby, or family life will both increase patient happiness and likely enhance our own conscious dedication in caring for them.
2. Allow patients to know something about you. Similar to gaining insight into our patient’s lives outside of the hospital walls, it is also reasonable and often beneficial to give our patients a glimpse of who we are when not wearing the coffee-stained white coats.
I’m not suggesting that we divulge any racy personal information that would jeopardize the professional relationship with our patients (“I also enjoy that swinger’s club on 24th and Grove!”) I am however certain that patients will better engage and find satisfaction with those of us who are open to finding similarities (or even differences) in favorite sports teams, hobbies and other aspects of our non-medical lives.
3. Communicate promptly, even if you have no answer. In this age of health care technology, few of us working in direct patient care will not have to respond to patient phone calls or emails. Although this increasingly utilized and often unreimbursed facet of healthcare delivery may seem to us as a small aspect to the bigger picture of health maintenance, patients are likely to disagree.
Consider this: you are now the patient, and you have just received imaging to follow up an incidental finding from a previous scan and are concerned about the results. Perhaps you have not heard back from the doctor’s office for several days.
Of course you are going to follow this up with a phone call or email expecting some kind of communication regarding this issue in a relatively short time period.
Note that I do not mention anything in the above example about demanding the actual results of the test. Regardless of the content (as long as it involves an honest and compassionate answer), responding to patient questions outside office hours in a timely manner will certainly reinforce that we are looking out for our patients and truly care about their outcomes.
Take home point
To be clear, refreshing the medical community about simple ways to keep patients happy is not just about establishing or maintaining rapport (a common buzzword in medical education).
The intention is to remind those of us involved in patient care to treat our patients as exactly who they are: human beings with outside lives and interests who come to us because they are concerned about their health.
By consciously keeping this and the above suggestions in mind, there is no doubt that our patients will have better experiences with health care.
Brian J. Secemsky is an internal medicine resident who blogs at the Huffington Post. He can be reached on Twitter @BrianSecemskyMD. This article was originally written for the American Resident Project.