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5 Ways to Master Patient Communication

This is an excerpt from the webinar "5 Ways to Master Modern Patient Communication". Watch the full webinar here

Patient dynamics are changing and the disparity between the communication practices of the aging generation and younger, consumer-minded patients is growing. While the older generation may still prefer to be contacted via mail or by phone, the younger generation prefers web or text-based communication. As a result, it is up to the provider to figure out how to approach both so they can effectively serve and master communication for the modern patient. 

1. Introduction to Patient Communication

Healthcare can be intimidating. In fact, 74% of patients say that they are confused by medical bills. Because of this confusion, the average number of statements typically sent before a full balance is collected is 3.3. This is often because the patients don’t understand their statements and aren’t being communicated with effectively. When considering the time and cost used to send a statement, and that it takes 3.5 months on average to collect on a bill, working to update and improve communication practices can be impactful for your practice. 

To begin, it’s important to think about the categories of communication and where there might be room for improvement in each. 

Clinical Communication:

The first category are clinical communications which are done in the room with the patient, discussing things like symptoms, medical history, etc. During this type of communication the patient is building a connection with the clinician and the experience is humanized by face to face interaction. 

Financial Communication:

The next category of communication is not always so personal, and surrounds the clinical conversation. These are the financial communications which include scheduling, registration, check-in, and balance collections. These are the types of interactions that can be improved most by understanding the ways that patients would like to be communicated with, and then harnessing the available technology to make effective communication happen. 

2. Building Trust

Building trust with patients is crucial and transparency is key. Transparency in patient communications, especially around the financial experience, allows the patient to understand what their costs will be so they know what to expect when they receive a bill  [For more tips on financial transparency, visit our blog post, Delivering an upfront patient cost experience]. Building patient trust also comes by training your team to be authentic and have a “do what you say mentality” that is committed to delivering on promises and expectations. 

Two helpful models for building trust include: 

AIDET Model 

A- Acknowledge (Acknowledge issues and questions.)
I- Introduce (Introduce solutions.)
D- Duration (Inform the patient of the time commitment involved with their appointment.)
E- Explanation (Explain the reason for or goal of the interaction.)
T- Thanks (Thank patients for their time.) 

RESPECT Model

R- Rapport (Build a rapport with the patient.)
E- Empathy (Work to understand the feelings of the patient.)
S- Support (Offer support where possible.)
P- Partnership (Be a resource for the patient.)
E- Explanation (Be transparent so the patient knows what to expect.)
C- Competence (The patient should feel they are taken care of.)
T- Trust 


3. Delivering Content

As patient mentality changes and more become frustrated with the status quo, practices must work to make every interaction count. In 2019, 86% of statements were sent as a paper bill even though 80% of patients have reported preferring electronic payment options. As a result, it’s time to start focusing on the strategic delivery of patient communication. 

The best place to start when evaluating the delivery of communication is with the patients themselves. Have you asked your patients recently how they would like to be communicated with? Would they like text messages? Emails? Access to an online portal? Once you have an idea of what they prefer you can work to find ways to support patients with more options for communicating. 

4. Right Place, Right Time

Effective communication happens when providers are thoughtful about when and how they deliver each interaction. Here are some tips for making sure you are communicating at the right place and right time so your delivery will be most successful. 

Right Place

  • Get necessary consent for communication with patients and determine patient preferences. 
  • Understand the difference between marketing, financial and clinical (HIPAA) communications. Each has its own purpose and way information should be communicated. 
  • Be a solution. Create a strategy for providing answers for questions patients may have and be a patient advocate. 

Right Time 

  • Don’t auto-dial patients at odd hours of the day. 
  • Don’t send spammy messages. Make sure all interactions have a clear objective. 
  • Don't relentlessly bombard patients.
  • Do focus on high-response time periods.
  • Do be clear and direct, particularly about payment due dates.  
  • Work to connect communications in the right time frame for appointment reminders, upfront estimates and balance collections. 

Understanding Patient Communication Milestones

The following 5 scenarios are important to review when considering communicating in the right place at the right time. Each has a ripple effect that can be positive if implemented effectively.

  1. Pre-service appointment reminder: Are you sending a reminder? If yes, what was the no-show rate with/without reminder? (When effective, these reminders can help increase revenue by allowing you to see more patients.) 
  2. Pre-service cost estimate: Are you delivering a transparent cost estimate? These estimates can help improve the collections rate. 
  3. Post-visit survey: These surveys can aid in determining patient sentiment. Getting feedback on the patient experience is valuable to your practice, and reviews online can help with referrals. 
  4. Post-op follow up: These interactions will help you determine if patients are feeling taken care of, and if there are places where the quality of care can be improved. 
  5. Annual Wellness Checks: Reaching out proactively to remind patients about their wellness checks can increase your patient volume. These visits also have a high payment propensity which will help with revenue. 


5. Make it Easy

Change can be difficult and finding ways to make communication easier for patients will increase patient satisfaction. When considering implementing modern communication platforms into your current processes, it’s important to look out for the following factors that could affect ease of use: 

  • Accessing info shouldn't be difficult. If you are using a patient portal, make sure the process for logging in and navigating the portal is simple and effortless. 
  • Make sure that the process for changing preferences and patient information is smooth. If it isn’t, work to decrease any steps that may be causing friction in the process. 
  • Use platforms or work to create systems that will aid in reducing returned or undeliverable communications, and allow you to clean up patient demographics records. 

Whether your patients are older or young, authentic and effective communications will inform patients, treat them with dignity, and help to nurture relationships. They should be personal and offer solutions. Having an authentic interest in the patient experience is the key to successfully communicating and inquiring about satisfaction will allow you to adjust your process to meet the patients needs. 

To learn more, watch the full webinar "5 Ways to Master Modern Patient Communication" here.