It is an ongoing challenge, how to engage the patient in a way that best suits their specific needs. Some people have suggested that social media tools are the key to patient engagement. While these tools are compelling, in many cases the real problem is what the clinic is trying to accomplish with them. Is it sharing a vignette about a particular condition and the implications on the one’s health? Maybe its sharing patients’ stories? What about sharing important updates? One thing I’ve learned in my experiences is that physicians have a precarious balance to maintain when considering how they will engage in social media while providing personal care to patients in the clinic. For those physicians who are participating in social media community some meaningful way – it’s an impressive addition to any already incredible commitment.
The perception of the patient experience is one that in a conversation among the entire clinic staff, or even friends and neighbors (since everyone is a patient at some time) is in the eye of the beholder. In a conversation this week, a friend shared a thought with me of how great it would be if social media and patient engagement could be as easy as having each patient fill out the next appointment reminder postcard at the end of the visit just like in the dental clinic. Just under six months later, the patient receives a postcard in their own handwriting as a reminder for the next clinic engagement! The truth is that value in the patient experience is nothing without the physician in the clinic. However, there are also so many other staff members on the payroll in the clinic who must have something to add to the patient experience. If they do not have anything to add in this context, then it must be a great opportunity for an immediate reduction in payroll expense. What I know from my experiences is that these staff members are very important to the patient experience. Beyond the roles they fulfill in support of the physicians and the clinical workflow, they are most often the witnesses to a variety of patients’ needs from the mundane to the urgent and important. When I talk to patients about an experience that was well below their expectations, the common complaint is that communication among the physicians and clerical staff just fell short.
So while social media provides some really interesting ways to connect, collaborate and share, it does not replace the need for clear rules of engagement between the entire clinic staff. It sets the expectations for not only what patient engagement means in the clinic, but how it will be executed by every person on staff based on their roles. Patients expect social interaction among all clinic staff, and everyone on staff has an important view of patient outcomes during, after and between visits through their interactions. Recognizing that patient outcomes are in many ways in the eye of the beholder is an important step in developing better ways to capture those perceptions among all of those witnesses among the clinic staff. It’s not a social media campaign, but a philosophy of care campaign with respect for social interaction.