Aha Media Group writer Teri Cettina switched roles, from health copywriter to patient, when she was diagnosed with stage IV pancreatic cancer.

When I was first diagnosed with cancer, my husband and I were in almost-daily touch with my care team, as well as with our family and friends. However, our communication system was a bit chaotic — and that added stress to an already challenging situation.

Hospital marketing and care teams can help lessen the communication burden on everyone involved — which benefits both patients and your hospital.

Understand the Patient’s Communication Burden

Keep in mind the exhausting amount of communication your patients need to:

  • Schedule medical appointments
  • Contact their provider’s office with questions about medications, symptoms and next steps (and then wait several hours for someone to call back)
  • Update loved ones and friends and ask for help (“Can someone pick up our youngest from her concert?” “Does anyone have time to run to Costco for us?”)
  • Answer the constant flow of text messages from well-meaning friends

It’s overwhelming. But during that first year, we found easier ways for patients and healthcare teams to communicate during a health challenge. Here’s what we learned:

1. Use Your Hospital’s Existing Digital Tools

Your hospital’s health system probably already has an excellent electronic medical record and messaging platform, such as MyChart, myAdvocateAurora* or MyKids from Children’s Hospital Los Angeles*. Use it!

Help your patients understand the app’s value. Communicating digitally with their care team can save time and stress. For instance, patients and caregivers can:

  • Ask their doctors questions and get answers 24/7
  • Check appointment details — ideal if they forgot to write down this information
  • View their latest test results

In exchange, your care teams may spend less time having to:

  • Answer routine patient calls
  • Track down physicians to relay questions
  • Respond to families

Digital communication can save a lot of time for your front-office staff. And the “always on” communication approach will likely increase patient satisfaction (even for those who are digitally challenged).

Tips for hospital marketing teams

  • Begin at the beginning: The care team should help patients start using your digital app at their first appointment.
  • Appoint digital helpers: Assign employees to walk families through the steps of using your app — help them download it and set up their accounts and explain the helpful features. Older patients and anyone extremely distressed about their health situation may need extra handholding.
  • Train your care teams: Make sure your health professionals fully understand how to use your app. Consider creating companywide standards for your electronic system, including:
    • Replying to digital questions within 48 hours
    • Uploading test results to digital charts within 24 hours

2. Help Patients Communicate With Third Parties

My family also spent a lot of time on:

  • Making appointments for second opinions
  • Talking to our insurance company about coverage issues

I wish someone had told me early on that I could get help with that, too.

Tips for hospital marketing teams

Share information in your patient materials about how families can get help with logistics:

  • Personal representative: Explain how they can appoint someone to talk on their behalf with health professionals, insurance company representatives and others. Direct them to a form to appoint a Personal Representative, if needed.
  • FAQs: Offer information on your website or other patient materials about HIPAA privacy laws.

3. Encourage Families to Connect to Loved Ones Via Digital Platforms

That constant flow of text messages is a blessing. It means we are surrounded by people who love us. And patients who have solid support often feel less stressed, which leads to faster healing. Plus, patients who lean on others for help may have more time and energy to focus on your care team’s instructions.

But constantly having to update every parent, sibling, cousin and friend is overwhelming. So to simplify communication, we created a free account on CaringBridge.org. (LotsaHelpingHands.com is another alternative.) We asked folks to sign up (for free) and follow my page instead of constantly texting us.

Tips for hospital marketing teams

  • Inform patients about communication options: Include information on your website and introductory patient materials about the benefits of keeping family and friends in the loop. Patient-care specialists and social workers can also talk to families about reaching out for help and support.
  • Simplify the information chain: Encourage patients to open an account with sites such as CaringBridge or LotsaHelpingHands. This can be a big help for chronically ill patients — those with cancer, heart, vascular and other issues, as well as those on dialysis or getting transplants.
  • Suggest low-tech options, too: Families who aren’t comfortable with social media and apps can still keep their loved ones updated. Help families choose a “point person” — a family member or friend who can share care updates and service requests with the patient’s support circle. Encourage them to choose someone other than the patient’s spouse or primary caregiver — they already have plenty to do.

After all, the more your hospital marketing team shows that you’re serious about patient communication, the more trust and loyalty you’ll build with your patients.

I’ll continue to share my experiences as a medical-writer-turned-patient in upcoming blogs. Follow Aha Media Group on Facebook and LinkedIn to see more posts on empathetic marketing.

*Note: This is an Aha Media client.

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