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By Morten Bruhn
Although technology and medical breakthroughs tend to grab the spotlight when discussing the healthcare industry, the patient-provider relationship is the cornerstone of healthcare. This relationship must be grounded in trust that’s earned through interactions at all levels of medical practice. As with any relationship, patient trust in healthcare can be nurtured over time, involving many different cultivation strategies.
But that trust can be broken by just one negative interaction or a combination of little nuances. Some medical experts believe that trust in the patient-provider relationship is significantly strained due to the pandemic and that it’s going to take a lot of meaningful steps to rebuild that trust, so it’s very important to be clear on what goes into building and maintaining a strong patient-provider relationship.
Let’s look at some of the key factors that could stifle a patient’s trust and a provider’s effectiveness.
Factors That Influence Trust-Based Patient-Provider Relationships
One issue that can help or hurt the trust in the patient-provider relationship is price transparency. No one wants upsetting surprises in the financial aspects of healthcare. Patients want to feel like the doctor is being upfront and clear not only on their symptoms and prognoses, but also in their billing. They want to know upfront what their costs will be; any muddiness and frustration in billing can cause confusion and distrust.
A related issue is payment responsibility. Patients may not be clear about whose responsibility it is to cover certain medical costs. When providers are helpful in showing patients just what they owe, what their insurance covers, and their payment options, it can go a long way in building a patient’s trust in the provider.
Miscommunication of any sort is a pitfall for maintaining a great relationship. If any issues are identified, the foundation of patient-provider relationships could begin to diminish with back-and-forth communications. This process could take days to complete, during which time a patient is left confused and probably upset — and that’s in addition to dealing with their health concerns. To prevent these mishaps, providers should partner with technology vendors to identify their patients’ communications preferences use the preferred choice at every opportunity.
For example, some patients prefer text reminders of appointments and bills, while others prefer email or a call. If you ignore their preferences, messages tend to get lost, forgotten, and completely ignored — a recipe for creating mistrust. In many cases, this is a chance to not only lose that patient forever but risk negative online reviews and a loss of all their personal recommendations to the healthcare center.
Everyone at a healthcare facility needs to take these issues seriously. That includes anyone working in scheduling and medical registration, diagnosis and treatment, and checkout and billing. It’s a truly shared responsibility for building patient-provider relationships.
How Technology Can Improve Trust in the Patient-Provider Relationship
As we emerge from the pandemic, patients’ preferences have changed, as have our healthcare protocols, solutions, and practices. Given how difficult change can be and how important this relationship is, there are several small and simple but meaningful ways that technology can help providers rebuild patient-provider trust.
1. Use effective communication tools.
Effective communication is the foundation of trust, so providers should have an “omnichannel” communication approach, allowing patient communication through all methods: phone call, web chat, text, email, and written communications. This can be used to ask questions but also to pay bills or give feedback to patients. Just be sure to ask patients which communication method is their preference — and use them.
Another important part of this is that appointment registration should be done online prior to the visit. Patients can fill out insurance information and review demographic details prior to walking in. Once on-site, they are ready to see the provider and get their answers to their health issues quickly, avoiding lengthy times in waiting rooms.
Providers should also think about how using patient feedback can help gauge satisfaction not only with the medical experience but also in the financial experience. Following patient calls, emails, or chats, an option should be available to give feedback, and that feedback should be carefully listened to and shared with providers to make informed practice decisions. It’s the most effective way to assess your patients’ level of trust in terms of the financial aspects of their care.
2. Bake price transparency into the technology.
When providers give accurate, up-front cost estimates, they avoid surprising patients. The federal No Surprises Act is now in effect, supplying greater price transparency to patients seeing out-of-network providers. The patient shouldn’t have to “work” to find this information. Think about this process as a consumer: When you go into a store, you know how much you’re paying; when you sign up for a service, you know the monthly fee upfront with no hidden fees. It should be the same with healthcare.
Technology can gather the correct patient demographics and insurance information and make sure everything is coded correctly. This ensures the bill the patient receives is correct and truly reflects what’s owed. The bill should be clear to read and understand what the patient owes and why, and it should give a quick and easy way to contact someone for questions.
A well-designed and functioning patient portal provides users with peace of mind. Through a secure portal, they can log in from any device, anywhere, and in any way. There they can view their billing and transaction history. This lets patients feel both informed and engaged before and after visits.
3. Manage data and demographics efficiently.
Capturing accurate datafrom patients is also critical for trustworthy healthcare. To do that, providers must ask the right questions, capture those answers, and manage that data properly. Partnering with a healthcare technology vendor can help accomplish this goal behind-the-scenes so there is little disruption to patients or providers.
Revenue cycle specialists should think about how to use the technology tools and data at their fingertips to review all patient demographics before sending to carriers for payment. This ensures that patient demographics and appointment details are updated and correct. By having this solution in place, one does not have to rely on manual diligence for every single patient, because it’s already part of the technology. Instead, team members can optimize their time by strengthening the patient-provider relationship and partnerships with external vendors and solutions providers.
4. Let technology free up quality time.
Patients and doctors today both say they want more quality time together. When technology can reduce or eliminate burdensome administrative tasks, doctors can spend more focused time with patients. Nothing reinforces the bond of trust between patient and provider than one-on-one, unhurried interactions.
One of the best technological approaches to this is time of dictation tools. Using an app that uses speech recognition, doctors can save time by talking rather than typing out the reason for a patient visit, what procedures they performed, and the outcomes. That information can then be sent directly to a billing provider using machine learning to code encounters and send on to carriers. It lets technology manage the details while doctors get to practice medicine — and focus on patient care.
Trust Is the Foundation, and Technology Is the Tool
Technology is a powerful tool to build transparency and trust between the provider and patient. If used correctly, it can free up time for doctors to spend time with patients, calm patients’ uncertainties regarding care and billing, and, most importantly, build enhanced trust in the patient-provider relationship.
Amid patients’ changing needs and preferences, technology is the tool that allows doctors the time to make greater connections with patients. And when providers partner with external vendors focused on building both technology solutions and relationship-driven service models, they can be set up for success with the process-optimized technology that enables the greatest overall care for patients and the practice’s business operations. No matter the path to adoption, technology that fosters better patient-provider trust represents an all-around win for the healthcare industry, providers, and patients alike.
Morten Bruhn serves as Client Success Officer with Zotec Partners, bringing a clear vision and astute insight that prepares healthcare providers to prosper during business changes and economic challenges.