Can We Talk? The Importance of Communication with Patients: Vital Conversations in Health Care

Adam Husney, MD, Chief Executive Officer

It’s that time of year again—HIMSS 2020 is right around the corner! The cutting-edge technology we see at the conference each spring is always exciting, but it’s easy to forget the reason behind all these innovations: the patient. The one thing tech can never replace is direct communication between patients and their care team. That’s why it’s important to spark vital conversations at every opportunity.


Sparking Vital Conversations

Every conversation between a patient and a provider is vital—you never know what information that patient might share. Communication helps develop relationships and create trust. And a patient-provider relationship based on trust has so much more power to heal.

In a perfect world, you’d get to spend as much time as you wanted with every patient, but you have a lot of constraints on your schedule. In a healthcare environment where the average appointment lasts just 17 minutes, having these meaningful conversations and giving patients the information they need is becoming harder than ever.1

There is so much questionable information online, which makes it doubly important to make good, trusted information available for your patients. I know of one patient with a staphylococcal abscess who used information he found online to diagnose himself with a spider bite. Another Googled her symptoms and decided she had a simple case of pneumonia, but she turned out to have a rare, life-threatening heart valve problem. Giving patients access to evidence-based, medically reviewed health education that applies to their condition is critical—it helps patients better manage their health and lets clinicians maximize that valuable face-to-face time.

a patient in a hospital bed communicates with a provider


Trustworthy, easy to understand health education can help you spark these vital conversations. When you give patients content that has been medically reviewed and user tested, you can share more information with your patients without a larger time commitment. The key is to integrate educational material into the office visit.

It doesn’t stop there, though. Health education can also help you reach patients outside the office walls. You can email content ahead of time, to help prep patients for their appointment. A handout as they leave can help patients retain the information you’ve just discussed and allow them to review it at home. And by populating your website with educational content, you allow your patients access to accurate information, which increases their trust in you. They’ll come to associate you and your organization with answers they can trust.

Reaping the Rewards of Vital Health Conversations

Technology and digital health can streamline some aspects of health care, but there is really no substitute for face-to-face conversations and healing hands. In a study contrasting different styles of care, researchers found that physicians who used a participatory model of care (in which the doctor serves as educator, facilitates shared decision making, and encourages patients to participate in their care) had twice the patient retention rate of physicians using the traditional authoritative style of care (i.e., the physician is the patriarchal figure and decision maker).2,3

Increased satisfaction and better HCAHPS scores will also follow suit. As Vicki Maisonneuve details in Stop Guessing About Your Patient Satisfaction Scores, when Parkview Health tracked how often they provided patient education at the bedside using tablets, they found that their HCAHPS scores went up when they used the tablets more often. When you provide evidence-based, plain-language patient education, you increase patient engagement and see better overall patient satisfaction—all without a bigger time commitment from you.

Of course, the real goal in all of this is better patient outcomes, and that can only come with increased patient compliance. An exciting new MedEncentive study has shown that, by incentivizing patients to review health education and discuss their comprehension with their doctor, better health outcomes and lower costs result.4

A provider communicates with two patients sitting across from each other


Spark a Vital Conversation With Healthwise

We’re passionate about making it easy for physicians to communicate with patients. We started doing it in 1975 with the first edition of the Healthwise Handbook, and we’re doing it today through innovative, user-tested technology and content.

1 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16338912
2 Kaplan SH, Greenfield S, Gandek B, et al. Characteristics of physicians with participatory decision-making styles. Ann Intern Med. 1996;124:497–504
3 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3964421/
4 Greene JC, et al. (2019). Reduced hospitalizations, emergency room visits, and costs associated with a web-based health literacy, aligned-incentive intervention: Mixed methods study. Journal of Medical Internet Research, 21(10): e14772.