These factors within doctors’ control make a difference to patients

As the battle over health care reform in the U.S. rages on, doctors may feel that there is little they can do to improve things in any significant way for their patients in the midst of all this uncertainty. A comfortable waiting room and a friendly smile can hardly fix anything, right? Actually, evidence shows those do make a difference to patients – and there are even more factors within doctors’ control to improve their patients’ visits and help them get the best care. Here’s a look at five.

1. Make sure you have enough staff

A recent study found that patients’ perceptions of overall quality of care were most clearly linked to adequate numbers of staff. Today, more medical practices are hiring “physician extenders” like nurse practitioners, physician assistants, and non-physician providers (NPPs), according to health care industry sources. Not only do NPPs reduce the burden on doctors, they also can improve patient satisfaction by creating greater access and appointment availability and reduce costs at the same time.

For more on this topic, see Why Non-Physician Providers Are More Important Than Ever

2. Learn to manage different patient personalities

What doctor hasn’t dealt with an anxious, obnoxious, or overly friendly patient? In the interest of good doctor-patient communication, it’s important to recognize certain types of patients and understand where they’re coming from. “Difficult” patients may be in pain or anxious about their health. Too-friendly patients may be lonely. Sometimes, a little empathy goes a long way. Other times, better patient education is the answer.

For more on this topic, see How to Manage Unique Patient Personalities

3. Engage caregivers

Whether they are supporting an aging parent, child, or spouse, family caregivers are often the unsung heroes of patient care. They can be essential in the decision-making process, and they have the potential to improve adherence and patient outcomes. We’ve previously discussed dealing with difficult caregivers, but even the best-intentioned ones can be a barrier to doctors’ recommendations if you don’t include and engage them.

It starts with getting everyone on the same page – you can’t assume that the caregiver or even the patient has an understanding of their condition. One way to do that is with our interactive anatomy tool, Exam Mode, which includes a new feature: the patient’s simulated vision, called Point-of-Views (POVs). This lets you show patients and caregivers what’s happening inside the body, and simulates the impact of various conditions on vision. Visual aids are powerful and easy to understand, and provide a good jumping-off point for discussing treatment options and care plans.

For more on this topic, see How to Engage Caregivers

4. Help patients pay for their health care

It’s concerning that a recent report found that providers only anticipate collecting 50 to 70 percent of a patient’s balance after a visit. But it’s not surprising, given that patients are now bearing more of the brunt of health care costs, even if they have insurance. Helping them understand their coverage and payment responsibility benefits both patients and your practice.

This could be as simple as explaining what their co-pay is, writing a script for a 90-day instead of a 30-day supply of medication, or scheduling a test for December instead of January because a patient has already met their deductible for the year. Also consider easier, more patient-friendly payment options. The same report found that 70 percent of consumers preferred an electronic payment method.

For more on this topic, see How to Help Patients Navigate Health Care Costs

5. Better target your patient education

You might think you’re doing a decent job of educating your patients. After all, you put links to common conditions on your web site and send patients home from appointments with pamphlets about their treatment options. But the data show that when it comes to eye health, at least, the populations that are most at risk are not getting the message.

A Harris poll found that 91 percent of women in the U.S. did not know they were at significantly greater risk of permanent vision loss than men. And another survey found that one in four women had not received an eye exam in the past two years.

Targeting your patient education to specific at-risk groups can make a big difference. Research also shows that certain types of patient education are not only more easily understood by patients, but also impact their perceptions of their doctors and intended health behaviors. Clearly, all patient education is not created equal. Taking the time to review and refresh yours may be a simple and effective way to improve your patients’ experience.

For more on this topic, see The Impact of Patient Education on Perception of Care

To find out more unlikely factors that influence how patients feel about their doctors and health care, check out our recent post, Five Surprising Factors that Affect Patients’ Perceived Quality of Care.


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