Patient-provider communication is a critical component of the modern healthcare experience. There are numerous benefits to effective communication between patients and healthcare providers, from improving satisfaction and loyalty to increasing healthy clinical outcomes and engagement.
Engaging patients and empowering them to be their own care advocates requires providers to be proactive, available, and involved. Of course, that’s not always the reality—especially in today’s complex, evolving healthcare industry. According to a recent survey, infrequent communication was the top reason that patients lost confidence in providers during the pandemic.
That same survey found that nearly half of patients (48 percent) said they would like their healthcare providers to communicate with them more proactively—a common finding across all age groups. What’s more, 66 percent of patients said they would rather receive proactive communications from doctors about relevant health information than from retail brands sharing upcoming offers.
Learnings such as these make something very clear: Providers are missing opportunities to engage healthcare patients in the same way consumer-facing brands do. The good news is that there are numerous strategies that medical practices and providers can use to help enhance relationships and improve proactive communication.
Why Effective Patient-Provider Communication Is Essential
Effective communication between patients and providers helps to foster strong relationships, building rapport and increasing trust and loyalty. According to a recent Accenture survey, people trust providers who make them feel heard and informed, are clear about treatment and what it requires, and are available to answer questions.
Greater trust and stronger relationships set the foundation for an engaging and collaborative healthcare experience. When patients are more engaged, they’re more likely to be involved in their own care and join providers in shared decision-making regarding treatment plans. This ultimately leads to better medication adherence, healthier lifestyle choices, and more positive health outcomes as a whole.
Primary Barriers to Patient-Provider Communication
With such clear benefits to effective patient-provider communication, it’s hard to imagine what could go wrong. However, there are numerous barriers that get in the way of ensuring strong communication and relationships between patients and providers.
Providers are busy and overextended.
These days, healthcare providers are stretched incredibly thin. Issues such as a growing physician shortage and extensive administrative responsibilities often keep providers from communicating with patients as proactively as they would like. Busy and often burned-out providers might not follow up between visits or during care transitions. For example, a recent survey found that 33 percent of patients did not receive any follow-up communication after a visit to the emergency room.
Patients may distrust providers.
Patient distrust of healthcare providers is also a significant barrier to quality medical care. More than half of patients said they were afraid to have conversations with providers about health concerns or symptoms. When patients don’t trust their providers—whether due to poor communication, lack of transparency, or something else entirely—they’re less likely to follow treatment recommendations and adhere to prescribed medications. This can lead to increased patient churn, adverse events, and negative patient outcomes.
Consumer preferences are changing.
Today’s healthcare consumers also have much greater expectations for their medical providers. Many patients—especially younger generations—lack a dedicated primary care provider or specialist for treating chronic conditions. This makes building strong, communicative relationships very difficult for medical providers because there’s no guarantee that a patient will resume care with one practice.
6 Strategies for Better Patient-Provider Communication
Now that we’ve covered why it’s important and which obstacles get in the way, let’s discuss six strategies you can use to improve patient-provider communication.
1. Improve practice workflows.
Manual workflows are outdated and inefficient, making it difficult for practice staff and providers to be as responsive and communicative as possible. This can lead to existing patient churn, dissatisfaction, trouble attracting new patients, negative word of mouth, staff and provider burnout, and ultimately poor health outcomes.
By automating and streamlining manual workflows, your practice can free up staff members and providers to quickly respond and proactively reach out to patients. Sending automated post-visit summaries and follow-ups increases outreach without overloading staff, freeing up time to spend delivering a top-quality patient experience rather than getting bogged down with time-intensive, manual tasks.
2. Embrace patient portal messaging.
Patient portals offer many benefits to consumers, practice staff members, and providers alike, and they have become a mainstay in healthcare today. One of the most-used patient portal features is the ability to send secure two-way messages to communicate with providers.
Six in 10 patient portal users reported exchanging secure messages with a healthcare provider through their portal in 2020. Since then, patient portal inbox messages have increased by 157 percent. Here’s why: More and more healthcare consumers want an easy way to access their providers when they need to. In-portal messaging is quick, convenient, and flexible for patients, allowing them to reach out on their preferred device on their own time.
3. Use preferred contact methods.
A one-size-fits-all approach just doesn’t cut it when it comes to effective communication. After all, you won’t be able to communicate effectively if you try to do so using methods that simply don’t suit individual patients or align with their preferences. That’s why in the digital age, it’s important to tailor your patient-provider communications to each individual by finding out, saving, and using their preferred contact method to get in touch.
Omnichannel communication strategies—or those that incorporate text, email, phone calls, two-way messaging, video, social media, and more—are proven to be much more effective at engaging and empowering patients. By embracing various forms of communication and personalizing your approach for each individual, you can reach patients more effectively and increase the chance of encouraging healthy behaviors.
4. Prioritize patient education.
Patient education is vital for increasing engagement and achieving better health outcomes. By prioritizing patient education, you can better inform your patients about their own health and wellness, helping to guide treatment, increase trust, and nurture stronger relationships. Additionally, patient education helps to improve health literacy for vulnerable patients impacted by the social determinants of health.
If you’re looking to revamp your patient education strategy, here are some critical best practices to keep in mind:
- Make yourself available to answer questions.
- Be as clear as possible and clarify as needed.
- Educate on conditions, treatments, and choices.
- Discuss the importance of medication adherence.
- Ask patients to synthesize important information.
- Include family members in care management.
- Use technology to automate patient education.
5. Send surveys to collect feedback.
Your patients want to feel valued and heard by their providers. Not collecting patient feedback is a missed opportunity to learn how your patients are feeling about your care and to stay connected with them between visits to your office.
Automated surveys—to gauge satisfaction and gather patient-reported outcomes—are a great way to show patients their feedback is valuable and keep the lines of communication open between appointments. Surveys also improve the likelihood of patient adherence to prescribed medications and treatment plans while also enhancing population health management and increasing healthy outcomes.
Additionally, you can trigger automated events based on survey learnings. For example, if a patient indicates poor functional status or worsening symptoms, you can automate delivery of a text message or email to share self-management tips or encourage them to book a telehealth check-in appointment.
6. Intervene to support high-risk patients.
Some patients simply require more communication and closer care management than others—especially those managing and treating chronic conditions. Proactive patient outreach and interventions can help not only improve outcomes but also communication and relationships between patients and providers.
Identifying high-risk patients who may require more extensive support is a great way to improve physician communication with vulnerable groups while also enhancing population health efforts. Using a population health solution with custom dashboards and automation capabilities, you can monitor high-risk groups and reach out as needed.
Enhance Your Patient-Provider Communication with the Right Tech
Each way to improve outreach and deliver more effective, patient-centered communication has one common denominator: patient engagement technology. To truly engage and empower patients, you need technology designed to do exactly that—and ideally, to orchestrate engagement at each stage of the patient journey.
InteliChart’s Healthy Outcomes patient engagement platform can seamlessly integrate with your electronic health record solution and practice management system, ultimately helping to:
- Maximize patient outreach for better communication.
- Streamline practice workflows for greater efficiency.
- Foster meaningful patient-provider relationships.
- Gain valuable insights into the patient experience.
- Attract and retain healthcare consumers and patients.
With a comprehensive patient engagement strategy and solution at your fingertips, you can take proactive steps to start improving your patient-provider communication and achieving healthier outcomes for each individual.
Download our checklist to evaluate the effectiveness of your current patient portal and determine whether you should upgrade to an exceptional portal that is appealing, well-designed, and keeps you connected to your patients outside the office visit.
This article was originally published in December 2021 and was updated and republished in November 2022.