Patient Satisfaction News

4 Best Practices for Improving Patient-Provider Communication

Between opportunities offered through health IT and enhancing interpersonal exchanges, experts need to strike a balance in patient-provider communication.

By Sara Heath

The patient-provider relationship is the cornerstone of patient engagement. When a provider communicates well with her patient, it can help to make the patient feel like a valued member of the care team, thus improving patient satisfaction.


Patient-provider communication has other benefits, too. When patients and providers communicate via secure email or patient portal, they can meet important clinical needs. When providers include patients in care coordination, those patients are empowered in contributing their personally aggregated health data, helping to complete a data set and give valuable insights into their conditions.

However, in an industry that is quickly becoming consumed with the use of technology, forging meaningful relationships between patient and provider can be tricky. By following these best practices for provider communication, physicians can help boost not only patient satisfaction, but clinical outcomes as well.

Be clear about using the patient portal

Experts have long boasted the benefits of patient portals, saying that patient access to health data is important for them to fully understand their health and treatment plans. However, it is not enough for providers to assume patients will just register for the portals, or simply request they sign up for it.

READ MORE: Transparent Provider Communication Key for OpenNotes Success

Studies show that patient portal adoption is higher when providers endorse the product. Because patients trust the opinions of their providers, they may be more likely to believe that patient portals will be a useful tool in maintaining their wellness.

Providers need to practice their communication skills while trying to foster patient buy-in for the portal. According to Marcia Cheadle, RN, senior director for clinical applications at Inland Northwest Health Services, providers need to show patients how to use the portal before they leave the doctor’s office.

“What if instead I said to the patient as they leave the emergency room in my discharge process, ‘hey, let me show you where your information is on your portal.’ What would that look like?” Cheadle said in an webcast last August.

Encouraging patients to use the patient portal opens up additional opportunities for communication. These technologies help patients send messages to providers when they have a health issue, or work with appointment scheduling when a conflict occurs.

Open lines of communication using health IT

READ MORE: More Provider Communication Increases Patient Secure Messages

Although the robust use of health IT may be seen as a hindrance to genuine connection between patients and providers, it can also be utilized to help increase connectivity, so long as it is used effectively.

Patient portals are not the only technological tools that can open lines of communication. Telehealth is a burgeoning healthcare delivery practice that allows patients to connect with the physicians remotely in times of a health emergency.

These technologies do a lot to get rid of any barriers to care patients might be facing and to encourage them to connect with their physicians when something may be going wrong. In the long-run, telehealth has the power to mitigate a health concern before it grows into a larger issue.

Healthcare organizations can use health apps for smartphones to boost communication as well. These apps hold similar potential to patient portals, and provide patients the ability to share some of their health data directly with their providers’ EHRs. Apps that collect biometric data are well-suited for these purposes, and do a lot to facilitate remote patient care and provider communication when the patient is not in the hospital or doctor’s office.

Include the patient in care coordination

READ MORE: Patient-Provider Communication Key to Wellness Improvement

While opening lines of communication using new health IT tools presents opportunities for better clinical outcomes, providers should also remember the importance of patient satisfaction during interpersonal exchanges. Including the patient in his own care is an important part of this.

Including the patient in care coordination goes a long way in helping him to take ownership of his own health. Sharing with patients the rationale behind a certain procedure, for example, not only puts them at ease, but also makes them feel consulted in that decision-making process.

Accepting patient-generated health data is also an important practice in bridging the gap between the patient and care team members. Patient-generated health data – which can include anything from app-collected data to family histories to recent symptoms – not only gives valuable insights into clinical issues, but shows the patient that they participated in getting himself healthier.

Be empathetic toward the patient

Provider empathy in communication is an umbrella principle under which all of these best practices should fall. Providers should approach each exchange between themselves and their patients with sensitivity and compassion as a means to boost patient satisfaction.

Studies show that these practices are deeply effective. At Massachusetts General Hospital department for orthopedic surgery, providers who were perceived as more empathetic tended to receive higher patient satisfaction ratings. The researchers also found that 65 percent of patient satisfaction was correlated to provider empathy.

Providers need to turn away from their computers and other health IT in order to make this increased empathy happen. A study published in JAMA Internal Medicine shows that higher patient satisfaction scores were associated with lower computer usage.

Researchers found that only 48 percent of patients who experienced high provider computer use gave their providers excellent ratings. Conversely, 81 percent of patients who experienced low provider computer use gave their providers excellent ratings.

“High computer use by clinicians in safety-net clinics was associated with lower patient satisfaction and observable communication differences,” the reported stated. “Although social rapport building can build trust and satisfaction, concurrent computer use may inhibit authentic engagement, and multitasking clinicians may miss openings for deeper connection with their patients.”

As the healthcare industry moves deeper into their technological shift, patient satisfaction and provider communication are going to become more complicated. Between the vast opportunities offered from health IT and the prevailing need for genuine interpersonal connection, providers are facing conflicting interests. Going forward, they will need to determine how best to balance the two and to use health IT as a means to facilitate different kinds of interpersonal connections.


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