Many physicians rely on medical transcription companies to ease EHR data entry and outsource their medical billing to manage their revenue cycle. However, with heavy patient loads, time management continues to be a problem especially when it comes to the office visit. One way physicians can deal with this is to set the agenda for the office visit by getting patients on the same page and establishing a mutually agreed-upon approach to the encounter. Physicians can help patients make the most of their face-to-face visit by encouraging them to adopt the following strategies:
- Prepare an agenda: To make the most of their time with their physician, new patients should come prepared with a detailed history of their problem and questions about it, notes, comprehensive medication history, and medical records, including X-rays or MRIs. Patients can also bring along results of any home testing done, such as temperature, blood sugar, or blood pressure levels. They should inform the physician about their daily living habits (eating, drinking, exercise, smoking, and sleeping), as well as any recent lifestyle changes. Patients should never hold back any information. As the author of a recent article in the Philadelphia Tribune points out, conversation with the patient, a detailed examination, careful evaluation of all the information and deductive reason is necessary to arrive at a diagnosis.
- Send records in advance of the appointment: Patients seeing the doctor for the first time can send records or tests ahead of time. This is especially useful in the case of specialists in another hospital as they may not have access to the patient’s medical record. Examining the actual test results will allow the physician to interpret the studies personally. Patients should forward the records in a manner that suits the physician.
- Write out a list questions in order of importance: Physicians should advise patients to develop and prioritize questions to ask at the consult. The time with the physician can be very short. Making a list questions before the consult will help patient stay focused and also get answers to their questions. If the patient lets the doctor know about the questions in advance, it will be easier for the physician to answer them. The main medical concern should be discussed first and questions should be asked one at a time. Patients can also take notes on what their physician tells them.
- Bring medications: In a Wall Street Journal article, a physician recommends that patients bring along their medications including herbal and over-the-counter medicines that another physician prescribed. This is important for patients seeing more than one specialist. He recommends bringing the actual bottle with the original labels so that potential mistakes by the pharmacy can be ruled out. If they take many pills, it is advisable to carry a list. This will also help the doctor understand dosages, frequency and need for refills.
- Be prepared to answer the physician’s questions: New patients should be prepared to answer questions about their past and present illnesses, the treatment received, hospitalizations, allergies, as well as family history-including how old relatives were when they were diagnosed for a condition such as diabetes. Established patients should describe their problems, symptoms, and current need, and if in pain, be able to rate it on a scale of 1 to 10.
- Understand diagnosis and treatment plan: Experts suggest that the patient asks the physician how certain he/she is about the diagnosis and also about other possibilities. It’s important for the patient to know if the condition is temporary or chronic, if it’s contagious and its heritability, that is, if there’s a genetic factor that could affect their family. Patients should understand the treatment plan and how it can address their problem, when results can be expected, and side effects to watch out for. They should understand the importance of prescribed tests and how to prepare for them. This will allow them to consider the pros and cons and take an informed decision.
- Bring a caregiver or friend along: Bringing along a trusted friend/caregiver to an appointment is a good idea for patients who are too ill to ask questions or focus on what the physician says.
On their part, physicians should hone their communication skills to provide patient-centered care. The key features of patient-centered care communication are:
- obtaining the patient’s agenda with open-ended questions
- not interrupting the patient
- focused active listening
- Understanding the patient’s perspective of the illness, and showing empathy
A 2016 Medscape article notes that physicians can improve the patient experience by:
- Starting on time by preparing the examination room in advance
- Working with the patient scheduler and the clinical team to adjust time allocated for visits to meet patient needs
- Setting up protocols to minimize interruptions
- Establishing a plan to deal with messages
- Optimizing their EHR system
Experts also recommend hiring a scribe. Getting support from scribes and experienced medical transcription service companies is a great option to handle EHR data entry.
The above strategies can make the office visit less challenging for both the patient and the physician and improve patient care and satisfaction.