Patients and doctors alike are often frustrated at the lack of time available to have lengthy interactions during office visits. This problem can be compounded when a patient receives an unexpected diagnosis about a condition they may never have heard of, and they don’t even know where to start in terms of the right questions to ask to best manage their own care.

Our partner BrightFocus Foundation, a nonprofit focused on saving mind and sight through research investments and patient education materials, developed a unique solution for patients and caregivers seeking information about age-related macular degeneration (AMD). The foundation realized that while people may know there is something wrong with their eyes when they go to the doctor, the diagnosis of AMD frequently leaves more questions than answers.

In 2014, BrightFocus began a series of “chats” with guest experts on low vision topics. A different expert is invited to speak monthly on a 45-minute call. Topics range from more clinically-focused subjects such as, “I Have AMD: Now What?” presented by a retina specialist, to discussion about how to live a fuller life with assistive devices or transportation alternatives, to what treatments might look like in the future as new research advances the field. Callers are encouraged to submit questions in advance by email, social media, or by phone, and answers are built into the content to be discussed during the call. Participants are also able to speak with an operator during the call itself to ask specific questions about the presentation.

While the topics may be different in your practice, using monthly or bi-monthly “chats” to connect with patients seeking more information may be a great way to build engagement. It also affords you the opportunity to become the destination for quality health information for patients so they don’t end up seeking out answers from unreliable sources.

What makes chats so user-friendly?

Participation on the live call. Whether a patient has just been diagnosed or has detailed questions about the progression of a disease, the live monthly call should be easy to join. Participants register, receive a reminder call from the call operators the day before the chat, and again on the day of the presentation. This increases the participation rate significantly to ensure that presenters are talking to a full and engaged audience. Subscribe to a list serve that distributes a flyer promoting the specific topic and speaker each month, or mail postcards to a specific subset of applicable patients.

Audio files on iTunes or SoundCloud. Each chat can be archived in its entirety in the cloud and on your website to allow patients to access the content when it’s convenient for them, or to easily share with their families or caregivers. It’s also a nice solution for those who have difficulty reading due to low vision.

Written transcripts. In addition to audio files, each chat can be transcribed to a PDF, even in large print if appropriate for your practice. Practice managers can easily download these files and provide them to patients based on their own specific needs or questions.

Toll-free “hotline” with recorded information. For those who are not as comfortable with downloads or other digital tasks, set up an information line that has recordings of the most recent chats to access for a deeper dive into any topic.

As your patients educate themselves at their own pace and at the exact place they are in the lifecycle of a disease, the more easily you will be able to engage with them and make the most of the time that they are in your office.

For more detail on how BrightFocus has engaged patients with its BrightFocus Chats program, take a closer look here. To enhance patient education in your practice and improve your conversations with patients, sign up for a free two-week trial of our interactive patient education platform.