Post-pandemic communications: What’s changed?

We read an interesting article from Chiropractic Economics yesterday, discussing how patient communication preferences have changed as a result of the pandemic. Non-contact payments, telehealth, and text communication seems to be the way forward for many of our patients these days, and the research suggests that patients want to keep it that way!

From the article: ”This indicates an important shift in patient priorities from cost to experience, with a growing expectation for safety and convenience.” In fact, increasingly it’s being shown that text messaging is perhaps the preferred method of communication for patients (1), and this includes the over 65+ age group. Many of us already use SMS texts for appointment reminders, and yet we predict that this will increasingly become the norm for outside-of-the-appointment communications with many patients.

This is food for thought- how do we communicate effectively, reassure, advise, support and encourage accountability through a text message? So much of the subtleties of conversation is lost when put in writing- tone, facial expression, gestures, eye contact… coupled with the fact that miscommunications are perhaps the biggest problem in healthcare, this seems like a ticking time bomb for complaints and concerns.

Not always the case- there are many benefits of texting, especially when it comes to a coaching perspective. Where traditionally the healthcare practitioner could be considered as having the “upper hand”, being the one able to direct the conversation, provide information, deliver treatment and so on, text messaging puts us all on an equal footing. It becomes a two-way interaction, employing a ‘transactional model of communication’ where information is exchanged, rather than given and received. When doctors and patients share an equal footing, patients are empowered- and empowered patients engage with their healthcare needs more, are more motivated, and are better informed. It’s a win-win.

How can we embrace this new form of communicating in a post-COVID world?

A few suggestions from us:

  • Avoid abbreviations, using full words and correct grammar in all your text messaging. Not only that, but some may find shorthand (think “U” instead of “you”) to be dismissive and unprofessional. Taking the extra time to type out full words and correct grammar can help avoid misinterpretations and miscommunications when communicating via text.
  • If using text messaging to communicate appointment reminders, encourage adherence or similar- try to keep innovating. The impact of a text message is lost over time so try to change things up to keep patients engaged with your messaging. Review on a regular basis.
  • KISS: keep it simple, stupid. Don’t try and overcomplicate your message, and instead keep your communications straightforward to help support your patients. Avoid jargon or overly technical language, and if there’s something you need a patient to do (such as complete a form or PROMS questionnaire) then one call to action (CTA) per message is best. Consider – what it is that you want them to do and focus on that.
  • Consider how you can use it to encourage accountability. Do your patients need to complete exercises? Text them. Do they need to remember to take a supplement at a particular time? Text messaging is a simple, easy way to notify patients of the need to do so. In fact, a study from the Medical College of Wisconsin showed that some 80% of respondents felt that a text message was the best way to receive that notification. What would it do for their outcomes from care if patients were more adherent to your recommendations?

A final thought

Effective communication is the key to building positive patient relationships, by considering every interaction and ‘touch point’ carefully for both in-person and virtual communication, yes, even down to text message reminders, we can ensure better relationships and build trust with every interaction.

So, if you utilise an EHR (Electronic Health Records) that has automated text messages, take some time to review them- how can they be improved? When did you last change them? What else can you use them for?

Meeting patient’s expectations has a known impact on their outcomes from care, and if the research is telling us that people want to be communicated with via text, let’s give our patients what they want, but go above and beyond in a way that continues to put patient care and effective communication at the heart of it.

Read the Chiropractic Economics article here: https://www.chiroeco.com/communication-preferences/

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