Everyone likes to feel “heard,” and that’s particularly true for patients. After all, a healthcare practitioner who takes the time to really listen fosters a greater sense of trust and ease in their patients. But communicating with your patients shouldn’t end once they leave your office. Establishing an ongoing line of communication between patient and provider is essential for enhancing patient care—and thanks to healthcare communication tools, it’s never been easier to do.
The benefits of standardized communication tools in healthcare
Integrative medicine, by its very nature, cultivates communication between the healthcare provider and the patient. Because integrative medicine providers offer whole-person, individualized care, they meet people where they are and create personalized patient experiences. (28) This can result in better overall outcomes. (13) But expanding your communication and increasing your availability beyond the exam room can provide even greater benefits for both patient and practitioner.
Adding a combination of key patient communication tools like online blogs or newsletters, patient portals, and telehealth appointments can:
- Decrease healthcare costs by reducing unnecessary office and emergency room visits (6)
- Educate, engage, and empower patients (4)(8)
- Improve a practitioner’s ability to obtain medical histories (5)
- Improve patient adherence to treatment plans (4)(5)(8)
- Increase overall patient satisfaction (5)(8)
- Potentially improve a patient’s emotional and physiological symptoms, including pain (5)(8)
- Reduce medication errors and improve patient safety (4)
Did you know? Using effective patient communication tools can help practitioners reach remote and underserved populations (6)
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5 types of effective communication tools
Medical professionals are increasingly finding that employing technology to consistently communicate with their patients improves care, reduces costs, and streamlines operations. Adopting the following communication tools can help boost patient satisfaction while optimizing your practice.
1. Appointment reminders
Missed appointments aren’t just inconvenient, they waste a practice’s time and money. (16)(26) It’s also been found to result in poorer health outcomes for patients. (11) However, automated appointment reminders are a helpful communication tool that have been shown to significantly reduce no-shows. (7) In one study conducted by British researchers from London’s Imperial College, SMS text messages sent to remind patients of an upcoming appointment cut no-shows by 38%. (14)
Specialized software is widely available to automate appointment reminders via phone calls, text, and email. Some types of software simply remind patients of the date and time of the appointment along with a phone number to call to cancel or reschedule. More sophisticated software may allow providers to include the location of the appointment, as well as the ability for patients to easily cancel or reschedule the appointment online. (2)
Studies show, however, that sending too many reminders can result in reminder fatigue among patients. (24) According to research in the American Journal of Managed Care, two automated reminders sent three days prior to and one day before the appointment were more effective at reducing missed appointments than just one reminder. (23)
2. Email blasts, blogs, and newsletters
Sharing relevant information on topics that matter to your patients is an effective communication strategy that helps to keep patients engaged and may even increase treatment adherence. Of course, this isn’t a new concept. Healthcare providers have a long history of providing printed literature in their offices. Today, however, sharing information via online blogs or newsletters gives patients 24/7 access to a wealth of information about integrative medicine, alternative and complementary therapies, and common health conditions. Small bits of information about your practice or upcoming events can be shared via email blasts. Newsletters delivered directly to a patient’s inbox can provide in-depth health and wellness articles. What’s more, these email communications can be tailored to address specific groups of patients. This can include age, gender, and targeted patient populations who would benefit from information on specific health conditions.
Writing a series of blogs and posting them on your website is one of the most effective ways to educate patients. These blog posts can provide current and prospective patients with a wealth of knowledge about common health issues and how integrative medicine can help them achieve a healthy, vibrant life.
3. Patient portals
One of the best ways to help patients stay involved in their care is by adding a patient portal to your website. Because these secure portals are connected to electronic health records (EHR), they can help patients track and manage their care. A patient portal allows patients to access their lab results and medical records, make appointments, request prescription or supplement refills, and communicate with their healthcare provider. (10)(11) As a result, patient portals help patients remain engaged in their care, improve patient-practitioner communication, and decrease costs. (10)
During one review of 11 studies, Italian researchers found that patients who took advantage of portals experienced a better doctor-patient relationship, were more aware of their health status, and were more likely to adhere to their treatment plan. (1) Other studies note that patient portals foster trust and a greater sense of collaboration with their healthcare providers. (21) In addition, portals improve patient safety by making it easier to spot medical errors. (4)
But, because patient portals require some level of comfort and computer proficiency, not all patients experience the benefits they provide. Research in the Journal of Medical Internet Research notes that a patient’s interest in and ability to use a patient portal largely depends on factors like age, ethnicity, and education level. This particular study found that younger people, minoritized, and healthier patients were less likely to take advantage of patient portals, while people with chronic conditions or disabilities were more likely to use a portal. (12)
Did you know? Up to 90% of providers now offer EHR patient portals as a way to engage patients in their care. (15)
In recent years, the use of remote appointments via telehealth technology has changed the face of medicine for the better. For those too sick to travel to an in-person appointment, people with a communicable illness, or patients who live in remote areas, telehealth has become a lifeline to medical care. (9)(17) Remote patient monitoring via telehealth appointments can also help integrative medicine providers manage chronic conditions. (25) In fact, studies show that telehealth appointments are at least as effective as in-person appointments. (22) What’s more, patients have been found to be highly satisfied with this type of remote care. (19)
Although telehealth appointments may feel similar to a Zoom call because they allow the patient and provider to meet face-to-face in real time, they are conducted via a secure and dedicated portal. To ensure privacy, practitioners should seek out telemedicine platforms that are HIPAA-compliant. (18)
5. Two-way texting
Oftentimes, patients need a quick answer about their care or confirmation on medication instructions. Being able to text their healthcare provider can save time and help to prevent unnecessary office visits. Plus, it’s been shown to increase a patient’s adherence to treatment. (27) For providers, two-way texting also offers the opportunity for patients to check-in for appointments and fill out intake forms online ahead of their visit. Not only is this more convenient for patients, it can help streamline the staff’s workflow and reduce the odds of an overly crowded waiting room. (20)
The bottom line
Communication between patient and provider is a key tenant of integrative medicine. Incorporating technology into your practice can expand this communication beyond the exam room and take your practice to the next level. Research shows that appointment reminders, blogs, emails, patient portals, telehealth visits, and two-way texting are among the most effective patient communication tools because they improve treatment adherence and empower patients while also helping to optimize office operations.
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- Carini, E., Villani, L., Pezzullo, A.M., Gentili, A., Barbara, A., Ricciardi, W., & Boccia, S. (2021). The impact of digital patient portals on health outcomes, system efficiency, and patient attitudes: updated systematic literature review. Journal of Medical Internet Research, 23(9), e26189.
- Chung, S., Martinez, M.C., Frosch, D.L., Jones, V.G., & Chan, A.S. (2020). Patient-centric scheduling with the implementation of health information technology to improve the patient experience and access to care: retrospective case-control analysis. Journal of Medical Internet Research, 22(6), e16451.
- Crutchfield, T.M., & Kistler, C.E. (2017). Getting patients in the door: medical appointment reminder preferences. Patient Preference and Adherence, 11, 141–150.
- Dendere, R., Slade, C., Burton-Jones, A., Sullivan, C., Staib, A., & Janda, M. (2019). Patient portals facilitating engagement with inpatient electronic medical records: a systematic review. Journal of Medical Internet Research, 21(4), e12779.
- Foley, S. Effective patient communication: background, benefits + best practices. American Academy of Physician Assistants. https://www.aapa.org/career-central/practice-tools/effective-patient-communication-background-benefits-best-practices/
- Gajarawala, S.N., & Pelkowski, J.N. (2021). Telehealth benefits and barriers. The Journal for Nurse Practitioners: JNP, 17(2), 218–221.
- Glauser, W. (2020). How can doctors reduce no-shows? CMAJ, 192, E151-152 .
- Ha, J.F., & Longnecker, N. (2010). Doctor-patient communication: a review. The Ochsner Journal, 10(1), 38–43.
- Hanlon, P., Daines, L., Campbell, C., McKinstry, B., Weller, D., & Pinnock, H. (2017). Telehealth interventions to support self-management of long-term conditions: a systematic metareview of diabetes, heart failure, asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and cancer. Journal of Medical Internet Research, 19(5), e172.
- Health information technology for engaging patients in diagnostic decision making in emergency departments. (2021). Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. https://www.ahrq.gov/patient-safety/reports/issue-briefs/healthit-ed-2.html
- Hefner, J.L., MacEwan, S.R., Biltz, A., & Sieck, C.J. (2019). Patient portal messaging for care coordination: a qualitative study of perspectives of experienced users with chronic conditions. BMC Family Practice, 20(1), 57.
- Irizarry, T., DeVito Dabbs, A., & Curran, C. R. (2015). Patient portals and patient engagement: a state of the science review. Journal of Medical Internet Research, 17(6), e148.
- Jonas, W. B., & Rosenbaum, E. (2021). The case for whole-person integrative care. Medicina (Kaunas, Lithuania), 57(7), 677.
- Koshy, E., Car, J., & Majeed, A. (2008). Effectiveness of mobile-phone short message service (SMS) reminders for ophthalmology outpatient appointments: observational study. BMC Ophthalmology, 8, 9.
- Lyles, C.R., Nelson, E.C., Frampton, S., Dykes, P.C., Cemballi, A.G., & Sarkar, U. (2020). Using electronic health record portals to improve patient engagement: research priorities and best practices. Annals of Internal Medicine, 172(11 Suppl), S123–S129.
- Marbouh, D., Khaleel, I., Al Shanqiti, K., Al Tamimi, M., Simsekler, M., Ellahham, S., Alibazoglu, D., & Alibazoglu, H. (2020). Evaluating the impact of patient no-shows on service quality. Risk Management and Healthcare Policy, 13, 509–517.
- Marcin, J.P., Shaikh, U., & Steinhorn, R.H. (2016). Addressing health disparities in rural communities using telehealth. Pediatric Research, 79(1-2), 169-176.
- Pandya, A., Waller, M., & Portnoy, J. (2022). The regulatory environment of telemedicine after COVID-19. Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology. In Practice, 13, S2213-2198(22)00696-1.
- Ramaswamy, A., Yu, M., Drangsholt, S., Ng, E., Culligan, P. J., Schlegel, P. N., & Hu, J. C. (2020). Patient satisfaction with telemedicine during the COVID-19 pandemic: retrospective cohort study. Journal of Medical Internet Research, 22(9), e20786.
- Shipp, M.M., Thakkar, M.Y., Sanghavi, K.K., Means, K.R. Jr., & Giladi, A.M. (2021). Disparities limit the effect and benefit of a web-based clinic intake system. Orthopedics, 44(3), e434-e439.
- Sieck, C.J., Hefner, J.L, & McAlerney, A.S. (2018). Improving the patient experience through patient portals: insights from experienced portal users. Patient Experience Journal, 5(3), 47-54.
- Snoswell, C.L., Chelberg, G., De Guzman, K.R., Haydon, H.H., Thomas, E.E., Caffery, L.J., & Smith, A.C. (2021). The clinical effectiveness of telehealth: A systematic review of meta-analyses from 2010 to 2019. Journal of Telemedicine and Telecare, 1357633X211022907.
- Steiner, J.F., Shainline, M.R., Dahlgren, J.Z., Kroll, A., & Xu, S. (2018). Optimizing number and timing of appointment reminders: a randomized trial. American Journal of Managed Care, 24(8), 377-384.
- Teo, A.R., Metcalf, E.E., Strange, W., Call, A.A., Tuepker, A., Dobscha, S.K., & Kaboli, P.J. (2021). Enhancing usability of appointment reminders: qualitative interviews of patients receiving care in the Veterans Health Administration. Journal of General Internal Medicine, 36(1), 121–128.
- The evidence base for telehealth: reassurance in the face of rapid expansion during the COVID-19 pandemic. (2020). Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. https://effectivehealthcare.ahrq.gov/products/telehealth-expansion/white-paper
- Triemstra, J.D., & Lowery, L. (2018). Prevalence, predictors, and the financial impact of missed appointments in an academic adolescent clinic. Cureus, 10(11), e3613.
- Wald, D.S., Butt, S., & Bestwick, J.P. (2015). One-way versus two-way text messaging on improving medication adherence: meta-analysis of randomized trials. American Journal of Medicine, 128(10), 1139.e1-5.
- Whole person health: what you need to know. (2021). National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. https://www.nccih.nih.gov/health/whole-person-health-what-you-need-to-know