How to Interact with Patients: 6 easy Phrases to Success

The quality of patient support in the clinic is highly dependent on how & what you say. We’ve discovered through the work of GCR that great clinic communication lays the foundation for everything the clinic does. Here are 6 easy phrases that you can apply to make “normal”communication with patients more memorable…

6 Easy Phrases for Patient Success

Mastering patient support requires the experience of knowing just what to say and the wisdom to recognize the best way to say it. But often communication with patients is difficult as the majority of support conversations are pretty standard: “I have a problem” and “Let’s fix that problem for you.” In these cases—the day in, day out—good clinical service becomes great thanks to the pleasantness of the interaction.Patients want to know that their issues matter to you; that you don’t see them as “Complaining Patient #558.” How you communicate this means everything.

Let’s explore a few simple phrases that can be used to improve nearly every support interaction.

Here’s a handy infographic guide to display on your office wall to help you and your team remember these patient communication phrases.

Download infographic here

1. Patient enquiry to your clinic: “Happy to help”

Not every patient will tell you that they are unhappy about their interaction with your clinic – in fact, very few will. They’ll just walk away.

To address this concern, think about “closing” all patient conversations positively with something like – “If there’s anything else I can ever help with please ask, I’m happy to help”.

Closing each conversation means ensuring that the patient is satisfied. Ending your emails without this “closing” message can be risky, as it’s not inviting the patient to share further issues. You need to let them know that you’d be happy to listen to the patient even more if needed.

That’s why I advise clinics to end 99% of their messages with, “Let me know if there’s anything else I can do for you—I’m happy to help.”

It’s my way of saying that it would be my pleasure to assist with any lingering concerns that may have cropped up, or answer any questions they may feel are “dumb”. There are no dumb questions in supporting patients.

You should avoid: ending conversations so bluntly that the patient feels you are hurrying them out the door. Even a simple, “Are you ready to book an appointment?” will do.

2. Patient enquiry to your clinic: “Does that help?”

This is similar to the above, however this phrase doesn’t “close” the conversation – instead it asks the patient for a response, so that you know that you’ve done your job well enough.

If you haven’t done your job well, the patient will ask you for more information. And you’ll learn much more about what to put in each piece of communication with future patients.

3. Unhappy patient: “I Understand How Upsetting That Must Be”

This is a message that is obviously being used with an upset patient.

Use this phrase often and thoughtfully – read the patient’s mood and relate with how he or she feels. Great support is always defined by genuine empathy.

4. Patients who want something you don’t want to do or cannot do for them:
“As much as I’d love to help, your request is beyond what we’re able to do for our patients at the moment.”

There comes a time when the only answer is “no”. Some patient requests just aren’t feasible. Maybe a patient is treating you like a free medical advice centre. While some advice is fine, they’ve got to learn that you are a medical clinic with more important tasks to attend to.
But imagine answering a genuinely enthusiastic request with a blunt “no”. It can sting. Stay firm but kind by stating how you’d like to help, but it’s just not possible in this situation.

It’s never fun to say “We can’t do that”, but you can at least do it nicely.

To this phrase I often suggest adding “I’m sorry I could not have been more help. Perhaps you could try… (add 1-2 resources)” for more impact.
You should avoid: “To be honest with you…” It’s a phrase that is sometimes used as a defense, as in, “To be honest with you, we don’t think patients need that.” I’m hesitant to use this phrasing because it makes a subtle implication that you’re being honest right now – are there times when you aren’t honest? You’ll also want to steer clear of corporate clinic sentences, such as “That’s not our policy”.

5. Difficult questions that you don’t know the answer to: “Great Question, I’ll Find That Out for You”

Not knowing the answer to a question is a difficult scenario for anyone to be in, especially if you are new in the clinic.
The biggest mistake to make is turning the situation into your situation: “Sorry, I’ve never been asked that before!”
Instead, keep the focus on what will be done to get the answer: “Great question, let me check with our head doctor so I can get that answered for you.”
Only the truly crazy patients will mind a small delay so that you can find the solution. Believe me, those types of patients have little chance of walking away happy from your clinic in the first place.

You should apply the principle of refocusing to other conversations as well. Whenever you’re able to put the spotlight on what will be done rather than what’s happened, you’ve made a smart move.

You should avoid: “maybe”, “perhaps”, or “I’m pretty sure”. Don’t guess for a patient, they want certainly. Simply state that you’re going to find out the exact answer they need, and do just that.

6. Unhappy patient: “May I Ask Why That Is?”

This is one to keep close, as critical and complaining patients are all too common.

You’ll need a way to dig deeper into their criticism without stooping to the abrasive language that they tend to use.
Consider if someone wrote this about your clinic in a review, on facebook or on twitter.

“The way Clinic X treated me is so f*ckin’ stupid. It’s unbelievable.”

Approaching this situation with care is important, because you don’t want to walk away as the bad guy.
This is where “May I ask why that is?” comes in handy. While it won’t pacify every patient, it always puts you in the right. Who can fault you for kindly asking for additional feedback?

You should avoid: stooping to the patients level. People will complain about your clinic no matter how high your GCR Score is, so just make sure your language is level-headed and professional.

The Language of Patient Support

Great communication is an art. Honing it to a keen edge is a science.
If 10 years of running my own clinic has taught me anything, it’s that improving your ability to convey medical information in a concise, friendly style will yield better results with patients than anything else. There are few “tricks” for talking to patients, but nothing performs better quite like consistently delightful communication.

These phrases will go a long way in helping you improve on your patient communication. Whether you add them into your patient cue cards (GCR accredited clinics have access to all our patient communication template resources free of charge) or incorporate their intentions into your own clinic communication templates, they have proven to be consistently helpful for the GCR accredited clinics; I hope they are helpful for yours.

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