The best clinical outcomes and patient experiences ultimately result from you having the best possible relationship with those in your care. It’s easy to understand that patients who trust you are more likely to follow your expert advice and thus get the most out of their visit to your clinic. Furthermore, these are exactly the same patients who are probably going to come back to you time and time again. It’s all about communication skills really and there’s a lot we can learn from client relationship management in healthcare, or patient CRM as it’s known by many.
Patient CRM: It’s in the Name!
Client relationship management (CRM) as it’s known in other spheres is essentially the same as patient relationship management aside from the clinical aspect of your work. You’ll note the key similarity here is relationship management. As you would expect when fostering relationships outside of your role in healthcare, managing your relationships with patients is all about communication.
Consider the following communication factors when dealing with new patients so you get off on the right foot:
- Explore your patients as a person and discuss aspects of their life outside the immediate problem.
- Understand your patient as a whole person and not just a set of signs and symptoms so you can create a treatment plan matching their lifestyle.
- Think about the patient’s beliefs and cultural background as these may play a strong role in whether your advice is going to be adhered to.
Keep Your Ears Open and Your Eyes Peeled
Patient relationship management is a two-way street. While it’s crucial that you play an active role in fostering a good rapport with your patients, you also need to be prepared to listen and take cues. Patients can give you all sorts of useful clues to what’s going just in the course of the conversation, and don’t forget that it’s just as much about how things are said as what is actually said.
Think about the following ways being a more open and mindful listener can help you to improve your patient relationships and clinical care quality:
- Bear in mind that many patients have preconceived notions of what’s wrong with them and this plays a big role in their expectations
- Consider that internet access and advertising for drugs to treat certain medical conditions will affect how patients communicate their problems
- Take your time when listening to patients, particularly when it comes to their perception of their symptoms
- Always remember to give your patients the chance to share their ideas, concerns and expectations for the best patient experience
Give Your Undivided Attention
Visiting the doctor is a stressful time for just about any patient. It’s not something they hope to have to do too often and it’s usually not something they are feeling too confident about. It’s your job to allay their fears as soon as possible, and one of the best ways to build a patient relationship is by paying full attention to the person sat in front of you. Although you may have all kinds of differential diagnoses and other concerns running through your head, medical practice is not just about the clinical outcome. Make your patient feel like a person and you’ll have a loyal patient for life.
Provide the highest quality patient experience by paying full attention to your patients as follows:
- Make your appointments long enough to spend a few minutes building up a rapport with the patient instead of digging straight into the clinical aspect.
- Don’t feel that you have to record everything immediately when you can instead use a templated online approach to consultation note-taking.
- Speak with receptionists on a regular basis to ensure that your approach to communication is being adopted throughout the whole clinic.
- Ask patients for their feedback and take action publicly on anything that is worth improving and showing off about.
Put Yourself in Your Patient’s Shoes
It goes without saying that a clinician should show plenty of empathy and really try to understand how the patient must be feeling at any given time. However, it’s all too often the case that this keenness for other people’s feelings is blunted over the years of practice. It’s not necessarily something that happens deliberately, but it is certainly a recognised phenomenon.
Create a high-level patient experience by treating your patients in the way they deserve:
- Treat your patients as you would expect to be treated to build loyalty and trust.
- Always display empathy clearly to raise the patient experience regardless of clinical outcome.
- Understand that the external appearance of empathy is different from how you feel inside, so make sure you connect the two where appropriate.
Keep on Top of Your Communication Skills
It would seem obvious that communication skills are vital for developing good relationships with patients. However, it’s not enough to be a naturally gifted communicator. You need to take steps to deliberately improve your approach to patients as the better you explain situations to your patients, the better the clinical outcome will be. That’s not even to mention the fact that your patients are far more likely to return if they had a good patient experience regardless of the actual clinical outcome.
Take your communication skills to the next level and create a patient experience second to none:
- Ask patients to repeat your advice back to you in their own words so you can be sure they have understood.
- Consider any biased opinion you may have and try not to allow them to negatively affect the patient-doctor relationship.
- Explore whether there are any language barriers and be prepared to use a translator particularly in cases of medical tourism.
Make Decisions with Your Patients, Not for Them
Nowadays, the paternalistic approach to medical care is well out of fashion. Instead, patients are increasingly able and willing to take part in the medical decisions being made to help them. Ultimately, this benefits the clinical outcome as patients are far more likely to adhere to your recommendations if they have played a part in creating this advice in the first place.
Employ a patient-centred approach with the following steps:
- Explore your patients’ understanding of what has been said before you ask for their input on what should be done about their problems.
- Understand your patients’ cultural background and lifestyle so you can have realistic expectations regarding suitable treatment plans.
- Use shared decision-making to involve the patient and thus increase the potential of treatment plans working.