Do you take a passive approach when talking with your patients about the value of your services? Are you confident when you talk with patients about the importance of participating in treatment or attending their appointments? Or do you struggle to communicate that information in a calm, confident manner?
It seems like the more I speak with clinicians, managers, and owners/directors, the more I notice a common theme: clinicians generally have a hard time communicating the value they bring to the patient engagement with confidence. In fact, it seems that many clinicians would rather rely on hanging up their diplomas, certificates, and specializations on their wall and hope their patients will see the value they have to offer.
Why is that? I was talking with someone the other day who mentioned that, many of the clinicians he employs consistently struggle to communicate their value to patients. He seemed to think that it may be due to confidence issues, or that clinicians may not want to feel “pushy” or “salesy”. Whatever the reason, the result is that they have a hard time acting like the clinical experts they are. They hope that their patients will simply recognize their worth and what they bring to the table. As we’ll discuss below, this is dangerous mindset.
Say It With Confidence
So why is it important that you be able to confidently communicate you value to patients? Well, it’s important for 2 reasons: 1) hope is not a strategy & 2) it increases your patient’s engagement and trust in you, your clinic, and your services. As I’ve written about here, a patient’s perceptions or expectations about the clinic, the treatment offered, and even the clinician’s skills can have real and measurable impacts on everything from satisfaction rating to clinical outcomes.
Perception also impacts patient engagement, participation in, and completion of plans of care. That reason alone should motivate clinicians and clinic owners to improve patient communication. If patients don’t perceive your clinic as skilled, capable, and even confident clinicians, they may end up deciding that it’s not worth their time, energy, or money to continue treatment or services.
Hope Is Not A Strategy
Let’s start with the first reason why you need to begin confidently communicating your expertise, skills, and value to patients. As I just said, hope is not a strategy! You can’t passively sit back and expect your patients and prospective patients to recognize your expertise. You need to be confident in your clinical knowledge, expertise, and the value you bring to the table. Patients want to know that you know your stuff. They want to be able to place their trust and confidence in your skills, knowledge, and abilities. That means you need to be able to confidently share that with them. You need to give them a reason to trust you. That requires that you confidently step into the role you should occupy in your patient’s mind: that of the clinical expert.
You can spend some money, buy some nice frames, and hang your diplomas and certificates on the walls. That will definitely make your office or clinic look nice, and it may even provide some assurance to your patient that you posses at least enough knowledge to graduate and get a license to practice. But paper hanging on walls falls short when it comes to communicating true, practical, and valuable expertise.
You can hope that patients will see the importance of completing their plan of care; that they’ll realize the value and benefit of the services you provide. But again, you leave a lot to chance when you do that. Your patients want to trust you. They want to believe that your services are valuable. They want to believe that your treatment can help them overcome whatever pain or dysfunction they’re experiencing. They want to believe that, but they won’t until you explicitly give them a reason to do so. Papers on the wall, and vague statements about the “importance of plan of care completion” don’t cut it.
Increase Your Patient’s Trust & Confidence in You, Your Clinic, & Your Services
Now, whenever this topic comes up, some clinicians come to the conclusion that they must “talk” patients into completing their course of care or participating in treatment. They feel like they’re “selling” their clinic, services, or benefits. At the end of it, they simply feel like they’re convincing patients to show up for treatment, rather than educating and encouraging them to participate.
And in reality, some clinicians and clinics may actually be just talking patients into cookie-cutter treatment programs that don’t really provide true or unique value to patients. And that’s sad. It leaves clinicians and patients alike feeling dissatisfied. I’ve been in many clinics where it was apparent that the clinicians didn’t truly believe they offered value. They were simply trying to “keep their schedules full” or “encourage patient retention“. That’s not what the goal is.
The goal of confident communication is to 1) determine the underlying issue that brings this patient into our clinic today, and any other factors that may be at play —check out our course on the biopsychosocial model for more info on that— 2) communicate those precipitating factors and findings to the patient, 3) come up with a plan, in partnership with the patient, that will help the patient overcome their dysfunction or pain and meet their goals and 4) maintain open channels of communication throughout the process to ensure progress and make adjustments as needed.
Notice how nowhere in the process are the words “convince”, “talk into”, or even “manipulate” when it comes patients attending or participating in treatment. If you do steps 1 through 4 correctly, your patients will be actively engaged in treatment and will be less likely to drop off the schedule, no show, or fail to complete their course of care. They’ll also be happier and more satisfied with the treatment they receive.
Step Into the Role of Confident Clinical Expert
So how do you confidently step into your role as a clinical expert? Well, it should be obvious, but expertise comes through competence. You need to spend enough time seeing the same situation(s) repeatedly to begin to notice patterns. In his book, The Business of Expertise, author David C. Baker describes the importance of pattern matching to developing deep expertise in a given field. This idea holds true for rehabilitation & healthcare in general. The more you are exposed to similar clinical situations, the easier it will be for you to identify underlying factors, select treatment techniques, make treatment recommendations, and answer your patients’ questions.
Does that mean you can’t be confident until you’ve become a deep expert in a certain clinical area? Of course not. I always tell my students and clients, “You know more than your patients.” Most of the time, you’ve received more education & training on your patients’ condition or dysfunction than they have had. (Of course, there was the time I treated a PA who worked in the orthopedic/shoulder clinic that referred many patients to my clinic, but those cases are few and far between).
What patients want and expect from clinicians is honest information and a willingness to help. You will likely be able to provide valuable information & insight into their condition and treatment options. And if they ask you a question that you may not be able to answer, you simply say, “You know what? I’m not entirely sure, but I’ll find out before your next appointment.” That response alone will build an enormous amount of credibility, trust, and rapport with your patients.
Ultimately, clinicians —not just “rehab liaisons” or rehab marketers— need to be able to effectively and confidently communicate the value that their services bring to their patients and clients. The ability to effectively communicate that value impacts your patient’s perceptions and expectations about the care they will receive in your clinic. It can increase their level of engagement in treatment, their adherence to recommendations or home programs, and even increase levels of course of care completion. You need to be intentional about communicating your value to patients and prospective patients because it’s key to building trust, confidence, and rapport. If you have a hard time being confident in your knowledge and expertise, remember that you often have much more information, skills, and insight about your patient’s condition than they do. You can always go deeper in your expertise, through pattern matching and study, but you likely have enough to communicate it confidently to your patients.
Do you struggle with acting like the clinical expert? How do you confidently communicate your worth to patients? Share any additional resources that you found helpful in the comments below!
If you’d like to talk with me about your clinic, department, or practice, and how Rehab U can help you improve patient retention and engagement. Schedule a FREE 15-minute call with me.
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Rafael E. Salazar II, MHS, OTR/L is the president and CEO of Rehab U Practice Solutions. He has experience in a variety of rehab settings, working with patients recovering from a variety of injuries and surgeries. He worked as the lead clinician in an outpatient specialty clinic at his local VA Medical center. He also has experience as an adjunct faculty instructor at Augusta University’s Occupational Therapy Program, as a Licensed Board Member on the GA State OT Board, has served on several committees for the national OT Board (NBCOT), and as a consultant working for the State of Georgia’s DBHDD. He is also on the Board of Directors for NBCOT. He works to help healthcare clinics and organizations deliver uniquely impactful patient experiences by improving service delivery through training & advisement and through courses & training programs.
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