The Ultimate Guide for Managing Patient Expectations

by Katie Sawyer, 9 minutes read
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The Ultimate Guide for Managing Patient Expectations

Modern healthcare now consists of patients using the internet to inform themselves about their condition, even before they get to a doctor’s office. This level of information means that more than ever, doctors need to manage patients’ expectations in relation to what is found online. Despite the shifts in how patients access health information, the Health Information National Trends Survey found that 62.4% of respondents, still believed that doctors were the most highly trusted source of information for patients. Despite these findings, patient expectations continue to increase.

Managing patient expectations can be time-consuming and many doctors only have a short time to work with each patient. But, taking the time to make sure that the patient understands the situation will encourage them to return to your office. It will build a lasting doctor-patient relationship that will help your healthcare practice. Managing patient expectations will also save you from potential financial losses, like lawsuits from patients who agreed to treatment that they did not fully understand.

Take the time to communicate clearly to protect yourself, your patient, and your business. Discuss important topics like costs, side effects, recovery time or alternative options. Give the patient plenty of time to ask questions or ask for clarification. In very serious cases, consider asking them to repeat information back to you to make sure that they understand. Being thorough will manage patient expectations so they fully understand the commitment they are making.

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The following are two types of patient expectations:

1. Reasonable expectations

The Ultimate Guide for Managing Patient Expectations

There are expectations that should be met for every patient. These are basic needs that keep them informed and feel respected throughout their time in your healthcare practice. Managing basic patient expectations should be a part of your best practice, which can be reiterated to staff by regular training. If basic expectations are not met, patients are likely to seek information from external sources, or even look for a new office that will serve them better.

Patients should feel they are:

  • Being listened to and their needs are considered – Display active listening skills by making eye contact, nodding or summarizing what the patient has told you.

  • Getting the best treatment – Tell your patients about all of their options and what their best choice is according to your professional opinion. Discuss each option thoroughly so that they can make the most educated decision.

  • Being treated with respect and professionalism – Sometimes patients are not easy to work with or will ignore your advice. It is important to still be respectful and professional towards your patient to encourage a healthy doctor-patient relationship.

  • Being given all the information to understand their options and the risks – Patients should have no misunderstanding about how hard a treatment option could be. It can be difficult to have conversations with your patient about negative consequences or large costs, especially if they are not covered by health insurance. However, in order to prepare for these potential issues, patients need to know about them as soon as possible.

2. Unrealistic expectations

The Ultimate Guide for Managing Patient Expectations

Some patients come in with unrealistic expectations about a doctor’s appointment. It is especially important to manage patient expectations in this situation to create healthy boundaries and a good doctor-patient relationship.

The following are some unrealistic expectations that patients can have:

  • Reaching the doctor at any time of day or night – Patients need to realize that you need to have a healthy work-life balance. Open communication is very important, but you should not be on call 24 hours a day. Make sure that patients respect your office hours and understand that there are times when you will not be available. You can also notify patients of who they should contact in an emergency.

  • Receiving a prescription without an appointment – Sometimes, especially if the patient has taken the medication before, they will demand that you refill a prescription without attending an appointment. Explain to your patient why it is necessary that they come in to speak with you first. They need to understand that tests or exams need to be done before continuing medication.

The Ultimate Guide for Managing Patient Expectations

  • Covering too much information in the allocated slot of one standard appointment – Patients can have a lot of questions. They may be dealing with an illness that they previously knew nothing about. They could be stressed or anxious about the future. Reassure them that they will get all of their questions answered but this may not be possible during the first appointment. It is important that your patient understands that there will be more time for further questions. If your practice uses an electronic health records (EHR) system, like Practice Fusion, you can easily book a follow-up appointment to discuss the patient’s concerns.

  • Finding an immediate solution – Your patient may expect to do the following in the same day:

    • Attend the appointment.
    • Carry out tests.
    • Get a diagnosis.
    • Start treatment.

Explain how long it takes to receive test results and how long it can take to identify the problem. Manage patient expectations by communicating exactly how long every step of the diagnosis and treatment is expected to take.

  • Expecting you to be an expert in all fields

The Ultimate Guide for Managing Patient Expectations

– Some patients may not understand when you are able to help and when it is time to see a specialist. They may become frustrated if you are not able to answer in-depth or irregular questions about a specific illness. Manage expectations by letting them know when it is time to see a specialist.

The expectations above can be difficult, if not impossible, for you to meet. Managing patient expectations in these situations is beneficial to your practice. Allowing a patient to cross professional boundaries can harm the doctor-patient relationship. Even though a patient may be demanding, it is your responsibility to ensure that nothing is agreed to that will pose a risk to their health. As a doctor, you always need to remain compliant with relevant laws and code of ethics, irrespective of patient expectations.

A patient should never be able to talk you or pressurize you into doing something that you are not comfortable with. Explain that you are uncomfortable or why their request is against the law or best practice. If possible, provide third-party sources that support your reasons. Explain that you both have the same priority, which is the patient’s health.

Patients with unrealistic expectations can present the following issues:

1. Misinformation and negative possibilities

The Ultimate Guide for Managing Patient Expectations

Patients have immediate access to health-related information because of the internet and online forums. Most patients Google symptoms and attempt to make a diagnosis, before making an appointment with a doctor.

Patients will sometimes attend their appointment, with the information that was found online. As a result, they may demand a certain type of treatment, even if this is not the best treatment for them. They may have read negative stories about the treatment that you are proposing and assume that this applies to their situation. Many patients come in feeling that they have to fight for what they want. They also feel that they must protect themselves from doctors who are only trying to make more money. This mindset makes it difficult to manage patient expectations and for you to convince the patient to accept the correct treatment.

Managing patient expectations will help ease these fears and show the patient that they can trust you. You will need to explain why your course of treatment is best for your patient, despite what they have read. Let your patient know that it’s impossible to know the health history of people posting in forums. As a result, treatment that may have negatively impacted some people will be perfectly fine for others.

2. Wrong self-diagnosis

The Ultimate Guide for Managing Patient Expectations

Some of the information on the internet is written by medical professionals, for other medical professionals. So, it is no surprise that some people without medical experience become confused about what they are reading. They may misdiagnose themselves and look into unnecessary treatments even before talking to their doctor. Patients may come in with stacks of information and hundreds of questions about an illness that they do not have.

As a medical professional, you have to manage these patient expectations and talk them through any confusion that may have taken place. Even though you are the doctor, your patients may be suspicious that you don’t understand what they are talking about. They may push back when you try to explain that there has been a misunderstanding. They probably had the expectation that they would explain what they found and you would order treatment immediately. The fact that you’re trying to convince them of the opposite, can make the patient suspicious and harm your doctor-patient relationship.

The Ultimate Guide for Managing Patient Expectations

In these circumstances, it’s necessary to take the time to make sure the patient fully understands the situation. Explain your reasoning in a simple and clear way so they know where you’re coming from. If they do not trust your explanation, look for support from a third-party. Allow your patients to ask questions and raise objections. Calmly and methodically explain why their expectations were incorrect. This may take more time then you were originally planning on spending with the patient, but it will make the patient feel more confident in your abilities.

3. Misguided treatment expectations

Another problem you may face when managing patient expectations is that a patient may want a treatment that is not best for their situation. The patient may attend the appointment with inaccurate information that they found on the internet or heard from a friend.

For instance, a study showed that about one-third of patients incorrectly believe that antibiotics work against viruses, like upper respiratory tract infections. Also, 19.5% of patients are likely to ask their doctors for antibiotics for the cold and flu, even though this is an ineffective treatment.

Additionally, about 30% of patients did not know your body can build a resistance to antibiotics. So, failing to manage patient expectations in this case will result in taking the antibiotics at an inappropriate time and reducing the effectiveness of antibiotics if they need to be used in the future.

The Ultimate Guide for Managing Patient Expectations

According to the same study, doctors felt pressured to prescribe antibiotics to patients who demanded them, even if they did not need them. In the long run, this could have a negative effect because the patient may build up a resistance to the medication and no longer trust that they’re being prescribed the right drug. While it seems like an easier option to give in to demands, it will not benefit your doctor-patient relationship and will encourage misguided patient expectations in the future.

Adapting your healthcare practice

Sometimes, patients will receive information from unreliable websites. The site could be selling a specific product or be biased towards one kind of treatment. In an attempt to manage patient expectations, some practices have started blogs or other informational websites.

Offering an informational website as a service to your patients will encourage them to look to you first for the right answer. If they can’t find an answer on your website, they should talk to you directly. Becoming the primary source of information will build a strong doctor-patient relationship, whilst managing expectations.

The Ultimate Guide for Managing Patient Expectations

It will be easier to manage patient expectations if you run an efficient healthcare practice. A key part of this efficiency is ensuring there’s enough staff to look after your patients.

If you employ hourly staff, you need a solution that will help you ensure you have the right amount of staff to cover busy periods in your practice.

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