Patient Satisfaction News

4 Key Steps to Building Strong Patient-Provider Communication

Patient-provider communication has room for improvement, especially as more physicians adopt patient-centered care models.

By Sara Heath

Patient-provider communication is an important component of improving patient engagement and patient satisfaction. When providers effectively communicate with their patients, they can both activate the patients in their care and help make them more fulfilled with their care experience.


However, a recent survey found that patient-provider communication is often lacking. The Right Place, Right Time survey found four central areas in which providers can improve communication: price and insurance transparency, communicating in plain language, improving trust and respect, and improving online and mobile resources.

In a new whitepaper, Chris Duke, PhD, of the Altarum Institute, shares some of the best practices gleaned from the Right Place, Right Time survey.

Patients want better price transparency

In the survey, Duke and colleagues asked patients to rank 19 different health concerns. The top five biggest patient concerns all centered on healthcare cost issues.

READ MORE: Understanding National Patient Language Proficiency, Barriers

This points to a major issue with communication, Duke explains. Providers need to make health insurance details and out-of-pocket costs more transparent to help improve patient satisfaction.

“Although more health care costs have shifted to consumers through high-deductible health plans, patients have not been given the tools to plan or understand the costs they must pay,” Duke wrote. “Cost information is by far the most challenging information type patients face today; greater financial transparency will empower patients to get the care they need at a price they understand.”

Providers may wish to better inform their patients of the cost of various treatments or procedures. Likewise, health insurance companies may need to improve their communication with beneficiaries on the matter.

By making cost information more available, payers can help improve patient satisfaction, Duke suggests. If a patient is more aware of all aspects of his or her care, they may feel more confident in their provider and treatment choice.

This transparency may also empower the patient to explore other treatment avenues. Healthcare experts say that increased cost transparency allows patients to shop around for their healthcare in order to find the best price for the best value.

READ MORE: Patient-Provider Communication Key to Wellness Improvement

Providers must explain concepts in plain language

With all of its complicated jargon and technical terminology, it is often hard for laymen to navigate their healthcare. According to the survey, patients responded better to care summaries that included glossaries or “translations” of technical healthcare lexicon than to documentation that did not include those terminology keys.

Duke says these glossaries are vital for securing patient understanding and improving health literacy.

“Technical terms can still be used, but they should be accompanied by large print summaries that drive home the most important points for consumers to understand,” Duke wrote. “Where consumers need to make a choice, the pros and cons of each option should be laid out clearly. This approach is used effectively in many patient decision aids used for shared decision-making, but could be used much more widely.”

Low-income, Medicaid patients feel a lack of respect

READ MORE: Patient EHR Note Input Boosts Patient-Provider Communication

Perhaps one of the most troubling findings from the survey was that low-income patients and patients on Medicaid feel that their providers do not respect them. Patients reported that some of their providers did not take their issues seriously or treated them as less important than other patients.

Specific complaints included lack of eye contact, not engaging in conversation with patients, expressing disgust upon physical examination, and dismissing patient concerns.

Duke notes that respect is the foundation of any human interaction, and these behaviors are taking a toll on patient health. Patients who perceive a lack of respect on the provider end are less likely to stay adherent to their treatments or to continue to seek preventative healthcare.

“Providers can help promote positive patient-provider relationships by making friendly eye contact with patients, asking about patient well-being, listening to patient concerns seriously, and inviting patients to engage in shared decision-making,” Duke explains. “The results may well pay off in better adherence and health outcomes.”

Patients need online resources to be mobile-friendly

In the digital age, most health information resources live online. As consumers continue to go mobile, an increasing number of patients need these online resources to be compatible with their mobile devices.

According to the survey, most patients who cannot access a resource on their mobile devices will give up seeking that information. This could potentially lead to a less educated or less engaged patient.

Duke says improvements in this area will require resource developers to reconfigure their interfaces for mobile-friendly formats.

These reconfiguration projects need to be done carefully and with thorough consumer research to ensure usability. Studies show that many mHealth apps and mobile resources aren’t always usable. Because they lack navigability and other patient-facing benefits, they may not be useful in improving patient engagement and communication.

As more and more providers continue to adopt patient-centered care models, it will be important that they understand the fundamentals of patient-provider communication. By adopting different strategies to make their communications clearer, providers can build stronger relationships with patients. Ultimately, these stronger relationships may lead to better care outcomes.

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