Poor communication between patients and providers is, unfortunately, all too common. In fact, according to a national survey commissioned by the Schwartz Center for Compassionate Healthcare at the Massachusetts General Hospital, only 48 percent of patients noted that their providers always included them in important decisions regarding treatment.
Twenty-nine percent of patients were also unaware of who was in charge of their particular medical case. Additionally, other studies have highlighted that roughly 80 percent of the medical information patient’s receive is either remembered incorrectly, or completely forgotten, and 35 percent of physicians noted that they did not agree with disclosing serious medical errors to their patients. However, the Schwartz Center survey highlighted that over 80 percent of patients and 71 percent of doctors noted that provider-to-patient communication was extremely important and played a significant role in a patient’s chances for successful recovery.
There are, of course, consequences when health-related communication falters: poor patient-to-provider communication leads to suboptimal outcomes, which inevitably translates to poor health results for patients and wasted resources for providers. Here is a brief examination of the impact poor communication has on both patients and providers and how a text-first strategy can improve overall outcomes.
Avoidable Delays and Cancellations
Poor communication can lead to patient delays and appointment cancellations. It’s estimated that appointment no-shows range from five to 55 percent. Why? Well, sometimes there are actual logistical reasons for a patient to miss an appointment—perhaps a patient can’t get off of work or perhaps they’re too ill to travel. However, one study highlighted that some patients miss or cancel their appointments due to fears concerning the potential diagnosis, perceived disrespect on the part of the provider, and miscommunication regarding the provider’s scheduling system. Missed appointments or patient delays not only hamper a patient’s chance for recovery, but they also eat up valuable provider resources.
Interestingly, many of the patient-related delay and appointment issues—ranging from perceived disrespect to lingering fears or worries—could be easily addressed by increased communication efforts on the part of a healthcare provider. For instance, a mix of tailored education, instructions and alerts can be sent to patients before their appointment, and since more than three-quarters of American adults text regularly, text messaging can be an ideal resource for providers who are looking to improve communication with their patients.
Poor patient-to-provider communication can result in bungled treatment plans and poor medication adherence. For example, one healthcare survey estimated that roughly 25 percent of Americans don’t follow the treatment plans outlined by their providers. Reasoning varied: 39 percent of patients didn’t agree with their clinicians about the diagnosis, 27 percent had concerns about the cost of treatment, 20 percent felt that the treatment went against their beliefs, and 25 percent thought the treatment plan was just too complicated to follow.
Miscommunication also leads to poor medication adherence: one study noted that 50 percent of chronically ill patients don’t take their medication properly. When patients fail to follow their treatment plans, they usually hinder their chances for a successful recovery. Providers have to try to explain their treatment plans clearly and succinctly—failure to do so can lead to suboptimal outcomes. Mobile technology – more specifically text messaging – can play an important role in improving medication adherence by supporting those initial conversations. Many studies have shown that text message reminders are effective in promoting adherence. A “text-first” mobile patient engagement platform can be used to support much more than reminders and actually help provide a touch point that improves their overall health.
Poor Health Outcomes
Patient delay, missed appointments, and poor medication adherence—these issues are all directly related to poor patient-to-provider communication. When providers fail to check in with patients or when they fail to fully explain a treatment plan to a patient, this typically leads to suboptimal outcomes. When patients don’t follow through with their treatments, they usually fail to recover successfully, which oftentimes leads to avoidable readmissions. Hospital readmission is a critical issue in the United States: one in five Medicare patients in the U.S. each year is readmitted within 30 days of leaving a hospital. However, a recent Harvard Business Review article pointed out that a “hospital would, on average, reduce its readmission rate by 5 percent if it were to prioritize communication with the patients in addition to complying with evidence-based standards of care.”
Suboptimal outcomes lead to poor health results for patients, and repeated hospital readmissions eat up costly and critical provider resources. In order to improve outcomes and avoid patient-to-provider miscommunication, providers must focus on improving their overall communication efforts with patients. A cost efficient and effective way to reach patients is through text messaging. The right platform not only support automated and on-demand messaging, but it also provides tools for provider staff that help them manage this critical communication channel. Text messaging holds great promise for improving provider-to-patient communication and, most importantly, outcomes for all.
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