In our last article “Building a Patient Education Program” (May, page 82) we explored how a solid patient education program can keep patients, resources and revenue from falling through the cracks and what your practice needs to build a strong patient education program.
Top businesses know their first customers are their employees. It’s no different for your dermatology practice. You must first educate your staff before expecting them to educate patients.
As a dermatologist, you need your entire team to make sure patients understand everything from diagnoses to outcome expectations to payment options. And when they understand, you’ll have more prepared, satisfied patients and a more efficient process.
There are six essential components your staff must be equipped to execute for your dermatology practice to reap the rewards of rock solid patient education:
1. Identify the patient’s limitations, questions and concerns about receiving the education or implementing an effective treatment /care plan through continuous evaluation
- Find out if the patient is ready to learn or has a preoccupation such as fear, pain or worry over finances that will hinder learning.
- Listen for clues about their values, attitudes and goals to inform your communication.
- If the patient is too anxious or rapport/trust has not been established, offer another visit dedicated to education.
- Put patients at ease by asking about family or favorite activities.
- Encourage patients who may need support or assistance to bring caretakers or advocates to appointments as ‘another set of eyes and ears’.
2. Explain both the problem and the possible treatment options in a way that can be easily understood and remembered (use handouts with takeaways and visuals!).
- Help patients relax by providing notes for their visit. Let them know you will provide printed notes for them to take and offer materials for them to take their own notes.
- Assess timing. Find out how much time patients have allotted so you can use it efficiently, set a stopping point and schedule a follow-up or phone appointment if needed.
- Avoid assumptions. Patients’ education levels and professions are not indicators of their grasp of the topic. Keep it simple and take it slow, and allow time for questions.
- Ensure patients understand potential side effects, the steps and timing of their treatment plan and the results they can expect. In dermatology practices especially, it is crucial patients have realistic expectations of outcomes.
- Ask questions that allow patients to direct their education, like, “What do you want to know?” or “What is your goal?”.
3. Engage and motivate the patient and their support system to contribute to defining the treatment/care plan and desired outcome and to adhere to it for their own benefit.
- Focus on the benefits of successful adherence.
- Be Flexible. While engaging you may realize the care plan needs some tweaking.
- Don’t be afraid to say, “I don’t know” in answer to a question. Honesty builds trust. Affirm that they’ve asked a great question and let them know you’ll get back to them - and be sure to do it!
- Provide additional support resources, like website links and handouts .
4. Document all education given, next steps and plans of action. Include the identified limitations and concerns and agreed-upon action plans so your practice and any other providers can pick up where you left off.
- Document in real time or immediately after the appointment while information is fresh in your mind. Waiting often results in incomplete notes. Having a patient reiterate their last visit because of poor notes erodes trust and confidence.
- When scheduling appointments or discussing follow-ups, encourage patients to come with notes and questions prepared. Their personal and visit notes provide them thorough reference material.
5. Assign a point person the patient knows they can contact if questions arise later. Even if your practice doesn’t have a designated “patient educator” position, this must be an explicit job duty with defined expectations.
- Patients are more likely to reach out for clarification if they are given permission to contact someone other than the physician who they may be hesitant to disturb.
- Make sure the contact information for their point person is written down for later reference.
6. Follow-up to ensure your patient has begun to implement needed changes and is satisfied with their progress, or needs a change in treatment plan. Practice leaders must implement a follow-up protocol defining who will take on this duty and when. This is an ideal job duty for a dedicated in-practice patient educator.
- Follow up is the perfect time to have patients assess their satisfaction with your practice. Respond to any complaints or concerns while encouraging open, honest dialog. Then make adjustments that will increase patient adherence and satisfaction.
- Reinforce patient adherence with positive comments and encouragement to continue with the treatment plan.
- Encourage feedback and foster a culture in your practice that embraces feedback as an opportunity to improve, not something to fear.
- When physicians and staff partner to provide rock solid education, patients will look to your practice as a source of information, empowerment and dermatological solutions. And your practice benefits by improved outcomes, increased referrals, and stellar reviews! Â