Communication: Improving the Patient Experience

By Donna Weinstock

Healthcare practices often spend time looking at ways to improve patient satisfaction, but how often do they address communication as it relates to improved patient service? I would have to say, not often enough.

Every aspect of patient care involves communication. Whether it is in person, on the telephone or using technology, what you say is as important as how you say it. It is so easy for a patient to misinterpret what is being conveyed. For this reason, practices should look at their communication as a way of improving “the patient experience.”

When a patient is face to face with the front receptionist, does that receptionist look the patient in the eye? Does she address the patient by name and offer her the same respect and consideration that she herself would want? For that matter, every person in the office, from the clinical staff to billing person should treat patients with respect and dignity. Starting with the patient, there is a definite link between a patient’s understanding and patient satisfaction. In improving the relationship between the practice and the patient, it is important to:

• Include the pleasantries. Whether it’s greeting a person by name, offering them a seat or shaking hands, pleasantries and greetings are important.
• Create a rapport with the patient. This includes an understanding of the patient’s concerns, issues and needs.
• Understand the patient’s perspective and what he/she wants out of the visit to the office. This can include areas of scheduling, billing and education as well as the physician visits with the patient.
• Be empathetic and sympathetic to the patient’s concerns. They need to know that you care about them as a person. RESPECT and SUPPORT are essential.
• Do not appear rushed even if you are. Let the patient feel that they are important and you are giving them the time they need.
• Keep the conversation on track.
• Listen without interrupting. Look at the patient so they know you are listening. Hear what your patients are saying. If needed, repeat what they said; “if I understand you, you are saying….”
• Involve the patient in his/her care. Whether it’s educating the patient of his diagnosis, explaining a bill, or discussing insurance, the patient needs to be aware and understand what is happening. Build on the relationship and make the patient and family members PARTNERS in their care.
• Manage patient expectations. Try coaching your patients as to what reasonable expectations are.

Telephone encounters with the patient need to be equally respectful and considerate. Reaching a live person should be easy and telephone hold time should be kept to a minimum. Staff should try and establish why a patient is calling prior to transferring the call and should share the reason with the person they are transferring the call to. There is nothing more aggravating than having to explain the purpose of your call several times during the encounter.

Communication is more than just the spoken word. It is the little things that we do that remind the patient of their importance to the practice.

Some things a practice may want to consider doing are to:
• Send all patients a welcome letter
• Make special efforts to meet the patient’s needs
• Educate your staff on working with patients
• Listen
• Follow up
• Do the unexpected
• Exceed their expectations.

It is the body language we use to make a point and the gestures we make. It is going above and beyond the expectation of the patient to insure that the patient understands what he is being told and recognizes his value to the practice.

Every encounter we share with a patient, whether on the telephone, in person, on the internet or using advanced technology is a means of communicating. Practices should value all forms of communication and look for ways to improve them. Effective communication is customer service at its best.

© 2011 Efficiency in Practice

Donna Weinstock is a Senior Consultant at InHealth, and the President of Office Management Solution. She consults with healthcare practices to perform workflow analysis, improve processes, and increase profits as well as select and implement electronic health records. She can be reached at
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