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Why COVID-19 is Making Us Better at Patient Relationships

It’s been over 15 months of COVID-19 and all the changes it has wrought on the medical field. Whether a two-person clinic or 500-bed hospital, practices across the board had to shift in a fast and effective way. Those clinics not providing front-line care found themselves treating patients with as little as possible face-to-face contact. But, perhaps surprisingly, one positive result of COVID-19 is that it’s improving how we relate to patients, and how they relate to us.

“The use of telemedicine has been shown to allow for better long-term care management and patient satisfaction,” Dr. Maryam Alvandi wrote in The American Journal of Accountable Care, adding. “There is also a need for extensive research on effectiveness and cost and quality relationships.”

That was in 2017, and since then, thanks to the pandemic, telehealth has exploded as a means of delivering patient care. Crucial practice-patient relationships, especially for patients with managed care plans, had to pivot to masked and physically distanced or remote visits.

The National Institutes for Health, in discussing COVID-19 and its potential effects on the doctor-patient relationship, stated, “The COVID-19 crisis could serve as a tipping point for remote consultation.” And in Illinois, the governor issued an executive order in March of 2020 to expand and protect telehealth services.

Clinic-ology understands that treating patients proactively can happen using different methods. What is important is that best practices continue and change as needed and the same level of sensitivity and thoughtfulness is used by medical staff.

With 41% of adults skipping routine office visits and minor procedures during the early months of the pandemic, according to the U.S. CDC, clinics across the country began reaching out to patients to schedule for routine care and delayed appointments. And as medical practices and patients became more accustomed to the changes in health care, some benefits became clear, including these major advantages in long-term managed care:

  • Patients can be seen from the comfort of their homes, with as many family members as they want.

  • Patients can talk with the entire multidisciplinary team in one visit to develop or adjust a managed care plan.

All medical professionals know that patient emotions can run high when faced with even routine visits and procedures. So communication is one of the most important tools to help patients to relax and receive quality care.

During the pandemic, physicians, physician’s assistants, nurses, CNAs and office staff likely took extra care to ask patients how they were feeling in general during in-person or virtual calls and appointments. That extra measure of emotional care and support strengthens the relationship between patients and their medical practice.

In addition, medical professionals who shared general pandemic guidance while discussing specific care with patients were able to encourage them to more regularly, reach out with their concerns and questions. This helped further grow patient trust towards health care teams and clinics.

Here are five best practices in communication that hold true across all methods of patient consultations:

  1. Provide a clear message. Using vague or weak words can confuse medical instructions. Be clear and concise and, most importantly, check that the patient understands the message.

  2. Use active listening skills. Clear communication calls for active listening, where the focus is not on how you are expressing yourself but on listening with intent to the patient.

  3. Be empathetic. Empathetic listening is the ability to listen with the sincere intention to understand the patient’s values, opinions and ideas. It resonates on an emotional level. And empathetic listening can be learned through practice and repetition.

  4. Focus on nonverbal cues. Eye contact is important, as is your tone of voice. On an emotional level, both express more than your words do. So for patients to really take in your message, be sure that your facial expressions and body language don’t weaken your patient's questions or instructions.

  5. Manage your own emotions. Allowing strong emotions to unnecessarily creep into a professional setting can lead to poor communication and conflict. All of us feel strong emotions at times but we can learn to control them when speaking with patients.

Clinic-ology knows that health care may look different now, but it’s an opportunity to raise the quality of our practices and make the quality of patient care even better.

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