5 Steps for a Positive Patient Encounter

Advances in social media and changes in insurance reimbursements have shifted patient care priorities to positive patient experiences and good customer feedback. Health care organizations are focused on creating experiences that lead to excellent customer service scores and positive social media postings, thereby placing significant responsibility on the shoulders of those who provide direct patient care. Here are five tips to help create a smoother and more positive patient experience. 

Step 1: Establish a positive encounter

Every culture understands the significance of the first impression. Our patients are no exception and first impressions set the tone for the duration of the encounter. The most important step in creating that positive first impression is to always leave personal and professional drama OUT of the encounter. Showing up to meet your patient while distracted, angry, or otherwise in a negative state is unprofessional and suggests you cannot handle difficult situations or juggle multiple tasks. Take time to change your outward appearance so as to hide any negative feelings. Investing a few seconds or minutes to bring yourself back to a positive light will save you from many minutes of headache. 

Step 2: Practice a personal approach

Personalize your patient’s experience by using the patient’s preferred name more than once in the visit. Using the preferred name creates a more intimate connection and sets the foundation for a more inviting personal relationship. Engage in culturally appropriate physical contact, such as a handshake when greeting or a supportive arm to assist with ambulation. At each visit, ask about life events or favorite activities and make a note. On subsequent visits, surprise your patient by bringing up the topic in conversation.

Step 3: Give thoughtful and useful feedback

Questions may be left unasked because patients feel they are 'stupid' or 'embarrassing'. If your patient is hesitating on a question, encourage him or her with supportive language, such as "go ahead, there is no bad question" or "don't be shy, I'm here to help". When they do ask, provide reinforcement by responding with "that is a good question, I'm glad you asked". If your patient feels confident discussing difficult topics or embarrassing questions with you, they are more likely to be open and honest, helping you achieve better patient care. When discussing results or findings of diagnostic testing avoid saying “they’re fine” or “it’s all good”. Let your patient know you did or did not find what you were looking for with specific details in a manner they will understand. 

Step 4: Set realistic goals and offer praise when achieved

Discuss treatment regimens with your patients and come up with small obtainable and measurable goals. Additionally, if you have a broader or larger goal that seems overwhelming, break it down into smaller more easily reachable “step by step” goals. Take for example weight loss. You may set a goal of a twenty pound weight loss in one year, which can seem difficult or impossible to a patient, yet a goal of two pounds per month may seem less intimating and thus more achievable. Give praise and celebration when goals are achieved. 

Step 5: Follow up when you say you will

Keeping a relationship strong means sharing responsibilities. This includes the relationship we have with our patients. Be sure to keep your word when making plans with a patient and communicate when your tasks are completed or results are known. Electronic medical records are making it easier for patients to look up their own results and should be taken advantage of; however, always close the communication loop by asking for confirmation that results were received and any questions are answered.