When patients leave your office, do you feel confident that you’ve given them all of the information they need to decide how to move forward with their healthcare? You might think you’ve informed your patients well enough during the appointment, but do you know how well they’re retaining that information when they leave?
Especially in cases where you’ve recommended a surgical procedure or a long-term treatment, patients are most likely going to want to go home and discuss it with their families. They may not always remember everything you told them in the office. Or, they may not have understood everything in the first place and were too afraid to ask questions (51% of Americans say they feel this way–and worse, half are concerned their doctor will be “insulted or angry” if they ask for more information).
It’s not as though you are intentionally withholding information from your patients. A lot of times, it’s a combination of being rushed to see as many patients as possible, and the curse of knowledge. It’s harder to identify where knowledge gaps or confusion might exist for someone else because you know so much about a topic. Still, 48% of patients said that they have felt confused after leaving a doctor’s appointment, so it is a prevalent issue that must be addressed.
Let’s take a look at some of the ways healthcare providers can better empower patients with information.
Your discussion during the appointment time is the first opportunity to provide information on the patient’s diagnosis and treatment recommendation. While you are certainly informing the patient about those things, they may not fully understand what you mean and have questions. And, like the statistics suggest, they may not feel confident asking those questions for a number of reasons.
It’s tough to know when a patient feels uninformed if they don’t express that to you, but there are things you can do to help bring that to light and empower your patients with information. First, make sure you are using patient-friendly terms when explaining the diagnosis and treatment recommendations. It’s better to over-simplify and over-explain than to leave your patients confused or under-informed.
It’s also important to explain why you recommend a particular treatment. What are the benefits? How does this treatment eliminate or help to improve their condition? Even if you are just recommending the standard treatment, patients are more likely to stick with it if they understand why it’s good for them.
Finally, you should always ask if a patient has any questions during the appointment. If you foster an environment where patients can have an open dialogue with you, they will feel more comfortable expressing it when they don’t understand something or need more information.
You can give patients really detailed information during an appointment and answer all of their questions, but unless the patient was taking notes the whole time, they may not remember everything you said. If the diagnosis was particularly worrisome, or if the recommended treatment was daunting (like surgery is for many people), this is especially true. People sometimes start thinking ahead to the worst-case scenario in those instances and may be less focused on the matter ahead.
This is why we recommend that you have informative content to back up everything you discussed during the appointment. A lot of practices will hand out basic patient education materials about recommended treatments, but this is an instance where custom content can really go a long way. With custom content, you can explain your specific approach to the treatment and why you recommend it. This not only helps reiterate and provide more information on the treatments discussed in the office, but also helps your patients get a sense of what to expect. Additionally, it gives your patients materials to share with their families if they need to.
There are different ways you can deliver this content, depending on what works best for your office and the patient’s preference. If you have the content on your website, you can provide links to the patient via email or hand out a card with a QR code that takes patients right to the content. You can also create a brochure or print-friendly version of the content for patients who prefer to have a hard copy.
Patient Messaging Options
Sometimes, your patients might think of questions after they’ve left your office, perhaps after discussing with family. They might not want to wait until the next appointment to ask those questions, and calling and leaving messages can be a tedious process for everyone, especially if your front desk staff can’t answer the question.
If your patient portal offers a messaging option, this is a great, secure way for patients to send you questions and get a response. It’s also a more efficient way for you to answer any questions, rather than relaying information to the front desk for them to call the patient back. As a bonus, your answer is in writing so the patient can refer back to it if needed.
Empower Your Patients with Information Every Step of the Way
You should take every opportunity to ensure that your patients have the information they need to move forward with their treatment, especially for major diagnoses and procedures. More often than not, your patients are going home and discussing with friends and family, and gaps in information could sow doubt about the recommendations.
When your patients know not only what you are going to do, but why you are doing it, they feel more reassurance about moving forward. Remember, what may be a routine procedure for you (because you do it all the time) is often a major undertaking in the patient’s eyes if it’s something they’re unfamiliar with. Approach it from that angle, and your patients will feel empowered to make the choice that is right for them.