Say What? The Physician-Patient Disconnect… What Can Industry Do?

Say What? The Physician-Patient Disconnect… What Can Industry Do?

Many of us are in the business of trying to get our medications prescribed, our devices purchased or our healthcare services selected. At The Patient Experience Project, we have found the most important aspect of being successful in this business is to provide a positive patient experience.

One of the biggest barriers to improving the patient experience is the poor state of communication between many patients and their healthcare providers. In a great blog article in Health Messaging, Steve Wilkins summarizes many of the data points from recent studies of primary care patients. A selection of them are summarized below:

  • Patients are interrupted by their physicians within the first 18 seconds of their opening statement during office visits
  • Physicians and patients agree on the reason for the office visit only 50 percent to 70 percent of the time
  • Physicians underestimate the patient’s desire for health information 65 percent of the time
  • 50 percent of patients walk out of their doctor’s office not understanding what their doctor told them to do
  • Patients are not asked if they have questions in up to 50 percent of office visits

From our research with physicians and patients over the years, we often have seen the same results in real life. In our approach, we interview physicians and patients separately and then again together. Typically a fascinating, and often uncomfortable, dynamic develops. We often hear some of the following themes:

  1. Physicians feel that they are not “the norm” and their patients understand and comply better than most.
  2. Physicians feel that many patients are misinformed and can’t possibly understand much of the information; therefore, they provide information on a need-to-know basis. Patients often leave the office craving more information and dissatisfied with the information they were given.
  3. Many patients adopt a deferential approach and “hold back” from really opening up and sharing with their physicians. This often leaves the physician feeling validated and thinking that they have done a thorough job during the visit. Conversely, patients are often disappointed with themselves for not speaking up and ultimately are unhappy with the interaction.
  4. Physicians are unable to spend the time they would like with their patients. Many physicians feel that they “do the best they can with the time available.” Many patients believe that is not good enough.
  5. Physicians report that there is a lack of quality education materials for patients, particularly for patients with rare diseases.

So we all know this communication gap is a major issue in healthcare today. Medical schools need to focus as much on communication as they do on traditional core medical training. With that said, what can we in the industry do to help address some of these issues in the real world? While there is no magic bullet, there are some approaches that can really make a difference.

  • Common language – Establish a common and simple vernacular. Educate patients with simple common language and connect this language in all of your selling materials and training programs for physicians. While docs do need the data, they also need simple and understandable ways to speak to their patients about diseases and available treatment options. Help them to make it easy and close the loop in your communications.
  • Keep it simple – Physicians are really busy… too busy. Keep messages simple, limited in number and easy to understand. Patients are also deluged with information on the Internet and from other sources. Help them to sort it out and focus on what’s important. The principles of good communication apply everywhere — use them to good effect.
  • Prepare patients – One of the most powerful things you can do is to educate and prepare patients for office visits. Physicians don’t have the time to educate their patients properly. You can help by providing useful information that builds up a patient’s confidence in order to have a more effective conversation with their physician.
  • Enhance the patient’s experience on treatment – Inform them, educate them in an engaging way, help them to comply to physician instructions and stay on therapy. The more successful they are, the more successful you will be. As their confidence grows, they will report back to their physician that they have had a positive experience. The physician’s confidence will grow and you know the rest of the story.

As we enter into a new era in healthcare, our approach needs to change with the times. Cost demands on the system will require even greater efficiency and resources will continue to be strained. Patients will be looking for answers and hope as they navigate the waters ahead. Let’s try to help them find their way.