Do your patients know you care? It could improve their health

 

How much does empathy matter in healthcare? A lot, it turns out.

A study published in 2019 found that patients’ perception of empathy among their care providers was strongly correlated with patient satisfaction, which influences adherence to treatment and contributes to a better doctor-patient relationship.

Effect of empathy on health outcomes

A randomized clinical trial published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine found that patients who perceived their healthcare providers as “most empathetic” lost 7 pounds more than the patients who rated their providers as “least empathetic.”

The effects are present in other areas of medicine as well. A 2013 review of 964 studies said empathy in the patient-physician communication is of unquestionable importance.

“There is a good correlation between physician empathy and patient satisfaction and a direct positive relationship with strengthening patient enablement” the study’s authors noted. “Empathy lowers patients’ anxiety and distress and delivers significantly better clinical outcomes.”

Empathy alone isn’t enough

It’s not just empathy but the perception of empathy that matters. For example, a doctor may feel empathy toward her patient, but unless she demonstrates it in a way that her patient understands and receives, she’s missing the mark.

It helps to understand what patients actually want from their providers. A patient survey published in 2019 found that patients want providers who acknowledge their emotions, listen well, have a positive disposition, and are trustworthy.

How to communicate with empathy

At WELL, we help our customers communicate empathetically with their patients. Here’s how:

  • Text your patients: Demonstrating empathy starts by communicating with patients in a way that works for them, which is often texting. Four out of five patients prefer to text their doctor than to receive a phone call or email.
  • Use first names: When your patients get messages from you, do you address them by name? Or does your text look like something out of a script, “Dr Smith: Your appointment is on June 5 at 5PM.” Instead, it could look like this: “Thanks for confirming your appt, John! Dr. Smith is looking forward to seeing you soon. Please text back if you have any questions.”
  • Talk to your patients, not about them: Instead of saying, “Talitha has an appointment at 9AM with Dr. Roth,” say, “Talitha, you have an appointment at 9AM with Dr. Roth.” It’s a subtle difference, but it sets the tone for the interaction with your patient.
  • Be brief: You are busy. So are your patients. Show them you “get it” by being brief. Text messages that work best for WELL clients are brief and include only the necessary details. If patients want more info, they can ask. We have friendly auto-responses to common questions, such as “Where are you located?” Of course, your staff can also chime in when they need to.
  • Show emotion: You’re not a robot. Express emotions in your communication. “Hello Betsy, Dr. Smith is looking forward to seeing you tomorrow…” and “Robert, we’re sorry that you missed your appt with Dr. Smith…” Exclamation points further convey warmth and friendliness!

Empathetic patient outreach delivers better results

We know you feel empathy toward your patients. It may be a large reason why you’re in medicine. Our client success representatives help you demonstrate it in your communication.

One WELL customer recently saw its appointment confirmations triple after meeting with one of our client success representatives who helped them implement these and other strategies for communicating effectively and with empathy.♥

How WELL helps you reach your Medicaid patients

 

If your health system or hospital is assigned patients through a state Medicaid managed care plan, you probably have a list of people who have never come in for an appointment.

Medicaid was designed to assist individuals who are of limited resources, which increases barriers to care — seeking care and meeting a new provider can be intimidating for anyone.

“The key is access — you have to meet people where they are. You have to be so convenient that it doesn’t feel like any effort is being put in to obtaining healthcare,” says WELL founder and CEO Guillaume de Zwirek.

WELL developed its flexible API to enable health systems to easily reach a large group of potential Medicaid managed care plan patients via text message and invite them to schedule an initial appointment.

This presents a great opportunity to establish relationships with new Medicaid-eligible patients and makes it easier for underserved communities to access care.

Reach new patients quickly

WELL allows you to text all of your as-yet-unseen patients, or a selected group of your choice, in under five minutes. All you need are their phone numbers.

Open new channels for patient communication

When you send out a text, you’ll create a communication channel in the WELL platform for each assigned patient, so they can message you if they have questions. For example, maybe one patient wants to know whether she should get the flu shot while pregnant. Your staff can easily respond, increasing the likelihood that the patient will receive much-needed care.

Campaigns improve patient outreach

With WELL, you can reach a large group of potential patients with your campaign messages. For example, when flu season is approaching, you can send a message to get a flu shot to all Medicaid-eligible patients at once.

Start a conversation

With WELL’s truly bidirectional messaging capabilities, you’ll be able to follow up with patients using broadcasts, or even reach out manually through the system to connect and hear back from patients. It’s a great way to get a conversation going — and make sure you’re helping your assigned patients get the healthcare they need and deserve.

“At its core, I started a company to help people, not to make money,” Gui says. “The promise of what we’re doing in reaching patients where they are is making people more comfortable seeking care and making healthcare more accessible to begin with.”♥

3 ways providers can address health education disparities

 

Which came first, dropping out of high school or poor health?

Adults without a diploma live a decade less than their peers who attended college. They’re also more likely to have more chronic health conditions and functional limitations and disabilities.

But poor health may be a reason for low educational attainment. The Journal of School Health found that health problems such as poor vision, asthma, and inattention and hyperactivity all influence students’ motivation and ability to learn.

Conversely, healthy kids perform better in school, score higher on standardized tests, and achieve higher educational outcomes, according to an article published in the journal Pediatrics.

Whatever the cause, lack of higher education is associated with poor overall health and a shorter lifespan.

Why a college degree means better health

Theories abound to explain the divide between education and health. A college degree may confer greater health literacy, money to support healthy behaviors, and a job that provides health insurance.

A degree is also associated with numerous other social determinants of health, such as income, social status, and housing.

Broad inequalities require broad solutions

Education and health are central to well-being and inextricably embedded in the social context and structure, observed researchers Anna Zajacova and Elizabeth M. Lawrence in an article published in the journal Annual Review of Public Health in 2018.

“Reducing macrolevel inequalities in health will require macrolevel interventions,” they said.

Over the past decade, health systems have implemented solutions that go well beyond hospital walls to address social determinants, including prescribing fresh produce and providing housing for people with chronic conditions.

“I think the key is to link people with the resources they need to do what their doctor advises,” says Dr. Melody Goodman, associate professor of biostatistics at New York University. “If you want someone to be more physically active, make sure they have the time, safe space, and resources to do so.”

When it comes to addressing lower education levels, there are three key ways providers can intervene:

#1 Start with health literacy

“Health literacy is really important to consider when dealing with patients with limited education,” Goodman says. “Don’t assume people are health literate.”

Health literacy is the ability to gather and understand the information needed to make informed health decisions. If a patient can’t understand most of the information their doctor or health system provides, how can they act on it?

For example, patient materials across medical specialties are written at near-college levels, well above the guidelines given by the American Medical Association and the National Institutes of Health, between a third- and seventh-grade level.

Goodman recommends using plain language and pictures when communicating with patients.
For example, don’t ask, “Are you ambulatory?” when you could say, “Are you able to walk on your own?”

She also recommends providing information to take home in both written and video format — “YouTube is great for this,” she says.

The Institute for Healthcare improvement offers a helpful guide for 8 ways to improve health literacy.

#2 Use the teach-back approach

Goodman also recommends using the Teach-back approach. The research-backed method involves having patients explain in their own words what they need to know and do. If they can’t, providers can explain it again, using simpler language and then re-check for comprehension.

Teach-back also provides a learning opportunity for providers. Terminology that may seem obvious to medical professionals might not be so obvious to patients — especially if they haven’t attended college. Providers can learn what works and what doesn’t and adapt their communication style accordingly.

#3 Communicate with patients in a way that works for them

Most Americans own a cell phone, and four out of five want to use it to communicate with their healthcare providers, according to a FICO survey.

And it goes both ways — providers see greater success in helping patients make changes when they send the recommendations via text. Research published in the journal Annual Review of Public Health in 2015, found that text messaging interventions were effective in addressing diabetes management, weight loss, physical activity, smoking cessation, and medication adherence.

The potential impact may be even higher among people who don’t go to college or don’t finish high school. Their reliance on cell phones for internet access is seven times higher than it is for college graduates.

This makes mobile communication an especially promising communication method for healthcare providers reaching this demographic.

Here are four benefits to using text messaging to reach patients, especially those with less education:

  • Improve health literacy: Use WELL to send broadcast messages (text messages to a large group) to your patients giving them general health information, such as flu prevention or healthy nutrition tips.
  • Increase medication adherence: Use WELL to send medication reminders via text to individual patients or groups of patients.
  • Reduce no-shows: No-shows affect more than just a practice’s bottom line — they affect individual patients. Use WELL to send HIPAA-compliant text appointment reminders to patients and reduce no-shows by 50 percent or more.
  • Improve access to care: If a patient needs to ask a quick question, they’re more likely to text their doctor than call a nurse hotline. With WELL’s bidirectional texting, patients can easily ask health questions.

When it comes to patient engagement, WELL believes in talking to people like they’re people — whatever their educational background. We’d love to help your health system improve patient outcomes through better communication. ♥

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