“Only if we could detect the symptoms earlier.”
“You should have approached us at least a month ago!”
“We could have avoided hospitalization if you had taken the right precautions.”
Patients do not deserve to hear such words. Nor should providers be made to say such things given the skillsets they possess. The importance of delivering care in a timely manner is undeniable. Delays in care are directly related to health risks, high costs, and unnecessary complications. Many reasons account for such delays, including but not limited to:
- Lack of effective communication
- Unavailability of the right information at the right time
- Far-off care delivery units
- Patient’s unwillingness to visit a doctor
While many factors can be attributed to logistical or demographical reasons in one way or other, patients shying away from seeing a doctor has a lot to do with the kind of relationship they share with providers and their overall trust on the healthcare delivery system.
Why do patients avoid seeking medical care?
The reasons for not seeing a medical professional vary drastically across the patient population. One in 4 patients cites excessive costs as a reason to avoid clinical visits. More than 15% of patients blame time constraints for not seeing their providers. Some other factors include:
- Deliberately waiting till the last moment
- Perceiving that they will recover automatically
- Discussions with peers about their health
However, it should be noted that the onus of providing end-to-end information regarding the viability of each procedure lies with the providers.
The criticality of having a trust-based relationship
To bring patients closer to their care teams, a health patient-provider relationship is a must. Such a relationship is based on two irrefutable postulates:
- Providers behave in a manner which is beneficial for patients’ health.
- Patients have confidence in their providers that they will work for their benefit.
Both the parties need to be on the same page all times during the treatment process. To put things in layman terms, the patient-provider relationship is based on trust. It is largely dependent on a patient’s perception of the physician’s technical and interpersonal competency. For a healthcare system to work ideally, providers need to protect the relationship at every step. Whenever possible, they need to consider patients’ wishes and desires and try to mix them up with conventional knowledge of medical science that they have.
While providers have expertise in imparting medically-sound treatment, patients can tell a lot about their health if they are involved in a constructive manner. Patients shouldn’t shy away from asking providers anything they think is important for their recovery. On the other hand, care teams should present their patients with accurate clinical insights irrespective of their personal or professional apprehensions regarding the same.
If providers and patients do not have mutual trust in each other, the latter tend to drift away. Either they start looking for alternative options or hold on to their problems until the last moment. This forms the base for an inefficient delivery system where patients stay away from sharing their problems with their providers.
When it comes to building trust, each small step matters
Patients who trust their physicians are more likely to adhere to their treatment procedures and contact them more promptly to discuss their health issues. However, building trust is not a one-day process. In fact, it is a never-ending process which requires a constant push in the right directions. Some of the many prerequisites of building trust include:
- Encouraging patients to come forward and ask for help
Making patients realize that their provider is always up to help them out is a sure-shot way of imbibing them with a sense of comfort and confidence. Some of the questions that patients battle out inside their heads include:
- Would it be appropriate to contact my provider to ask this?
- Is my problem really big enough?
- Is this the right time?
- Should I call my provider or write an email?
- Am I troubling my PCP?
While such questions might seem superficial in many cases, having such doubts may pave the way for serious communication gaps impacting the care quality severely.
- Using the right words
While communication may not always be verbal, having the right interpersonal skills is highly recommended. While treating patients may be a routine task for a provider, it may prove to be a life-changing experience for a patient. Something as small as replying to a compliment with “Thank you, I am glad I could help you out with this” instead of “It’s my job” could bring patients closer to their providers.
- Ensuring complete transparency
While shielding patients from negativity may sometimes work in their favor, patients deserve to know everything about their health. They should also know the rationale behind different care procedures and its effectiveness and potential risks. While ensuring complete transparency, providers should focus on creating an ecosystem where patients trust them with the biggest of problems. If patients believe that their providers can take care of them irrespective of the problem, they would more than willingly reach out to them.
- Keeping a note of patient reviews
Organizations are obliged to provide excellent customer services, just like any other sector. Satisfied patients are automatically closer to their care teams. According to a survey, 59% of patient consider online reviews as “somewhat important” or “very important” before choosing a physician. What patients express in their reviews often say a lot of the challenges and loopholes organizations need to address.
- Explaining the financial aspects of care procedures
Care teams should regularly have discussions regarding the copays and out-of-pocket costs involved with different services. Wherever possible, they should also suggest alternative options to their patients. Such steps not only initiate shared-decision making but also make patients believe that their providers actually care for them.
Utilizing patient portals to eliminate communication barriers
If utilized properly, patient portals truly hold the key to revolutionize how patients access their health data and communicate with their providers. Ideally, a patient portal should have the following capabilities:
- Support for viewing and downloading real-time health records and reports
- Tele-assistance, including direct secure messaging
- Gateways for online bill payments and refilling medications
- Appointment booking features
In the age of intelligence, patients should have the luxury of e-connecting with their providers from the comfort of their home. Patient portals have the power of putting patients at the center of the care delivery system. They also make the process of reaching out to the providers much easier and simpler. When patients can instantaneously connect with their providers, they can ask way their doubts without much hesitation.
The road ahead
Understanding why patients do not make it to the physician’s office is the need of the hour. We cannot have a system in place in which patients seek primary care in emergency rooms. A sustainable care delivery system is considerate to the needs of the patients. In years to come, new-age engagement solutions such as patient portals will grow in prominence. Going forward, our healthcare system will be defined by how closely providers work with their patients and how effectively they utilize technology.
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