By Katie Brenneman, Writer, Researcher
As a healthcare professional, you always want patients to leave your office satisfied and informed. After all, happy, well-informed patients are far more likely to adhere to the care you prescribe and will buy into their treatment plan.
However, many modern patients have already researched their ailments and may have self-diagnosed on their own. While healthcare literacy is a good thing, some unknowingly fall for healthcare fads that are not informed by evidence-based treatments.
Understanding the customer’s concerns and navigating health fads can be tricky. React too strongly, and you risk alienating the folks who come to see you. However, you cannot allow your patients to be taken in by snake oil and half-truths.
Instead, try to adopt an empathetic, understanding approach. This will help you appreciate your patient’s state of mind and may give you a chance to educate them before they leave.
Researching Common Fads
The healthcare industry is notorious for being fast-paced and intense. As a physician, administrator, nurse, or clinician, you probably have little patience for folks who berate modern medicine and spout nonsense about miracle cures.
However, if you want to connect with patients who have learned about fads, you’ll need to do a little research yourself. Showing patients that you have heard about homeopathy and phrenology can give you a chance to open a conversation about the veracity of health fads. You should also try to read up on new-age fads like ice baths and red light therapy, as thousands of people have been convinced of their veracity by podcasters and internet celebrities.
You don’t have to spend hours scouring medical journals in search of research papers, either. Instead, streamline your search by looking for meta-analysis that can summarize the current state of research. Most meta-analyses will succinctly dismantle fads that aren’t rooted in evidence or will point to the fact that more research is needed.
Even if you do decide to research fads in your free time, you may still come across some new healthcare crazes. You can learn to spot and debunk dangerous health fads by treating any quick-fix solutions with suspicion. Quick fixes that are based on anecdotal evidence are not trustworthy and may spark some unintended side-effects. Approach conversations about these fads with care and try to foreground the well-being of your patient throughout.
Foregrounding Patient Voice
The digital age has transformed the healthcare industry. Today, folks can contact their doctors remotely and millions of people feel empowered thanks to remote tech that helps them manage their symptoms. However, the digital age has also led to the spread of misinformation about healthcare.
As a healthcare provider, you should learn to understand the voice of the customer before you jump into heated debates about their treatment plan. The voice of the customer (VoC) is typically used by marketers who want to better understand consumer sentiment but can be applied to healthcare, too. Identifying the VoC can increase your appeal amongst patients and will help you identify red flags before a crisis occurs.
Gather important VoC insights by anonymously surveying patients and using social media to corroborate your findings. Just be sure to adhere to the HIPAA survey recommendations as you don’t want to inadvertently breach patient confidentiality rules. Once you’ve gathered your findings, use your insights to inform patients about reliable treatment plans with empathy and care.
Informing Patients With Empathy
Dealing with patients who would rather use snake oil than reliable treatment can be frustrating. However, losing your cool is unlikely to yield a positive outcome for you or your patient. Instead, find ways to redirect the conversation and help patients better understand their options.
When patients mention health fads, try not to start an argument. Patients will quickly get on the defensive if they’ve been trying to treat themselves with a fad. Instead, focus on improving the patient experience by engaging them with information that is science-based and reliable.
If patients do decide to push back on your prescription in favor of a health fad, try to approach the conversation from a place of understanding. Ask them more questions about the product or practice they want to use, as this will help you better appreciate their perspective and will help them feel heard. Consider asking questions like:
- Where did you hear about treatment X?
- Why do you think product Y would be beneficial to you?
- I have heard of X, here’s why we think treatment Y is more effective
It can feel like an affront when patients question your understanding of ailments and treatment plans. However, it’s important to take the high ground and foreground their well-being. This will make for a smoother conversation and will ensure that patients return should their symptoms worsen.
Navigating healthcare fads can be frustrating. As a healthcare professional, you simply want to help your patients with trustworthy, reliable treatment. However, you cannot discount the patient’s voice when discussing fad treatments. Instead, take the high ground and try to negotiate the conversation from a perspective of care and understanding. This will help patients admit their errors and build buy-in with their new treatment plan.