Making the Case to Patients Against Postponing Care
Many recent studies and reports point to an increase in postponement of care by patients that corresponds to an increase in the number of Americans dealing with high-deductible health plans.
This is not just an issue for people with individual insurance through the healthcare exchanges. In fact, more and more employers each year are offering only high-deductible plans to their employees.
It’s not rocket science to see this coming. In fact, the stated objective in offering high-deductible plans is to make patients think twice about over-utilizing healthcare services because the patient has more financial “skin in the game.”
There are countless stories emerging about patients who were ultimately diagnosed with serious, even life-threatening health issues because they were reluctant to seek care due to the out-of-pocket costs that they knew they would have to pay toward their high deductible.
The influence of the provider on patient behavior
Many physicians and other healthcare providers believe they can (and should) play the most powerful role and accept responsibility in shaping patient behavior that gives the patient the best potential for a positive health outcome that also protects the patient from major healthcare expenses.
Here’s how providers can organize an ongoing communications strategy to their patients to influence proactive patient behavior.
- Carve out time to talk to and educate your patients during their office visits.
Appointment scheduling considerations are important in the communication and education process.
Increasingly, clinics schedule longer appointment slots for patients with chronic, recurring medical conditions or previously diagnosed but untreated health problems. Even an extra 5 or 10 minutes allows time for more meaningful provider-to-patient communications and opportunity to influence patient behavior as well as allowing for the patients to feel heard.
- Get training to develop your influencing skills.
There are many courses that teach influencing skills. Most of these courses are not specific to a single industry, but there is some training available that has a greater direct applicability to provider-to-patient communications.
Here are a few courses from the Institute for Healthcare Communication that are specific to the clinician-patient relationship.
Other courses on influencing skills are available from:
Learning Tree International https://www.learningtree.com/courses/294/influence-skills-training-getting-results-without-direct-authority/
Watermark Learning https://www.watermarklearning.com/influencing-skills
And there are many other courses you can find through a Google search.
- Be sincere and genuinely concerned in discussions with patients
Influence starts with empathy. It is a challenge for many healthcare providers and support staff to remain empathetic to each patient’s fears, apprehensions, confusion or other emotional states.
This is true because most healthcare organizations deal with customers (patients) each day who are stressed, unhappy and feeling poorly.
So it’s understandable (but not acceptable) that providers and staff become desensitized to the patient’s emotional state or just don’t feel they have time to really feel and express genuine empathy with every patient who is unhappy, depressed and experiencing physical, as well as emotional pain.
Also, most providers are not naturally comfortable engaging with patients on an emotional level because a) they are too busy, and b) they find it easier to focus on facts than feelings.
The problem is that patient behavior is not influenced intellectually on the basis of facts and data. We make all of our decisions based on emotion and then we may rationalize our emotional decision with facts.
- Email and text message campaigns
It’s obviously much harder to convey empathy in an email and even harder in a text message, but it’s important to keep communicating motivating messages to patients between their appointments. A good writer can put the right words together to communicate education, motivation, inspiration and empathy but that skill is rare, even in marketing agencies and marketing departments.
Still, proactive communication with patients is better than no communication.
- Train assistants and even front desk staff on how to tee up and reinforce provider-to-patient communications
Most healthcare organizations don’t invest in training administrative and clinical support staff on any communications, much less train them on positive, influential communication with patients – even non-clinical conversations in some cases. Staff often feel they are too busy and that this is not and should not be part of their job description and managers often feel the same or conclude it’s not going to be worth the time and effort.
But more proactive healthcare organizations keep the primary goal of all of these communications in focus. In fact, patients often will listen more closely to reinforcing messages from clinical assistants and front office staff because many patients are more intimidated in conversation with providers than they feel with support staff.
- In office signage reminders
Most people respond to visual cues (consciously or subliminally). When the patient hears a provider or staff person tell them something important to their health behavior and then they see or have seen a similar message in writing around the clinic (posters, counter-top and table-top displays, literature), they are receiving at the very least a subliminal additional reminder at a time when they are more focused on their health.
- Educational/motivational videos for patients
More healthcare organizations are using video to educate but also to convey empathy to inspire more productive health behaviors. The best of these videos include sincere and often emotional comments from real patients as well as from providers and these videos can be used in the clinic as well as on the website and in other social media platforms. As always, you want to be careful to get written permission from patients who are willing to talk about their healthcare experience to make sure everyone complies with HIPAA regulations.
With any of these ideas, it starts with the philosophy, priority and commitment within your organization to influence positive patient behavior, even when faced with perceived financial disincentives to be proactive in getting care when it’s needed.
If you want to discuss this topic more specifically regarding your organization, you can call Lonnie Hirsch at 800-925-5447 or email Lonnie.Hirsch@HirschHealthConsulting.com.
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