Communication Strategies for Talking about Diagnoses with Your Patients

The healthcare industry is becoming increasingly convenient for patients with the rise of telehealth and greater access to medical records. Patient portals are now offered by nearly 90 percent of providers. While convenience is important, it is critical for your dermatology clinic to develop a personal touch and sound communication strategies for talking about diagnoses with your patients.

By taking the time to ensure your patients understand their diagnoses, training your staff to help share results, and knowing how to discuss diagnoses, you can help your practice keep patient experience and treatment a priority.

Taking Time to Educate Patients

Walk into a busy dermatology clinic and you will find staff members moving briskly to attend to patients, communicate with labs, manage the billing, work with insurance companies, and schedule out calendars. On top of this, the dermatologist balances limited time bouncing between exam rooms to take biopsies and guide treatments.

However, when it comes to sharing biopsy results, it’s vital to shift gears and take the time to help patients receive and understand the information with clarity. Because only 12 percent of patients can interpret their pathology report results correctly, dermatologists must be vigilant to ensure each patient leaves with an accurate comprehension of his or her condition. Here are a few suggestions to help engage the patient in their care.

Name their condition

By writing down the diagnosis and explaining it carefully, even if complicated (think CNH or GA), patients’ understanding and recall of their conditions improve. This correlates with increased patient satisfaction and adherence to treatment. Studies also show that patients forget 40-80 percent of what you tell them, so written communication is often best.
Give them a copy of their pathology report.

Consider printing out a copy of their pathology report. Having them read along as you explain the results can help to build confidence and absorb information. They will likely feel more comfortable asking questions.
Explain additional tests. A patient who understands his or her test results is likely to comprehend your reasoning for ordering further biopsies or studies.

Empower the patient

The more that patients understand, the more they are able to take personal responsibility for their own health and well-being. Time spent upfront counseling patients can result in improved outcomes, improving both patient and physician satisfaction.

Training Your Staff

The most powerful tool a dermatologist has is a supporting and capable staff. In addition to training team members on front and back-office tasks, you can save valuable time by giving medical assistants more ownership of the diagnosis-sharing process.

Patients want to receive their results as soon as possible. In one study, 67 percent of patients requested phone calls to receive their skin biopsy results because they wanted the information fast. By training and trusting your staff to communicate test results directly to patients, you can use this time to add an acute patient or catch up on documentation.

Your staff is listening as you interact with patients. Ask them to pay close attention to how you counsel patients so they can repeat the process on their own. Train your MAs to use handouts, images, or other devices to convey information in a comprehensible manner. Building relationships of trust by counseling with patients can make it easier and more personable when MAs follow up on treatments.

Putting Your Practice Management Tools To Work for Your Dermatology Clinic

Your practice management tools can be a costly part of your dermatology practice overhead. New practice management solutions are popping up frequently. With busywork costing physicians an average of $50,000 a year in lost revenue, it can be overwhelming to evaluate the latest timesaving or job-simplifying solutions in a busy practice. 

However, by examining your existing practice management tools, such as billing, your EMR, and your dermpath lab partner, you may discover increased efficiency may require some simple finetuning that makes a big difference to your bottom line.

Billing 

Collecting payment for the work you perform seems an obvious yet sometimes daunting task. A common question for dermatologists is whether to keep billing in-house or use a professional billing company. Each option has its benefits.

The advantage of a professional billing partner is the experience they bring to the table. About 10 percent of claims will be denied, and a high percentage of those (63 percent) are recoverable, so it’s important to resubmit denied claims. In addition to submitting and challenging claims, billing professionals can perform coding audits, credentialing services and potentially negotiating superior rates with insurance companies.

These companies typically charge a percentage of collections, ranging from 5 to 10 percent, and are therefore incentivized to maximize your collections. Look for a company that specializes in dermatology billing and talk to reference clients. Make sure they can work with your particular EMR or PM software.

A common issue for physicians using in-house billers is how to be confident that billing is being performed correctly. There are services that will perform a complimentary revenue cycle audit to ensure that you are maximizing your reimbursement.

EMR

Embracing the advantages of a modern, cloud-based EMR system can simplify record-keeping and maintain effective patient care in your dermatology clinic. It’s exciting to see more dermatology-specific EMRs created by dermatologists who understand the unique workflow of dermatology. While almost 86 percent of office-based physicians employ EMR/EHR systems, many have yet to tap into the full breadth of productivity-increasing features. 

Look for an EMR company that performs consistent upgrades and frequently informs and educates users about new timesaving benefits. After comprehensive onboarding, keep in touch with your EMR customer service representative to get answers to any questions or challenges your staff may encounter. Resolving performance issues is part of their job description, and it will save your team valuable time. Often, chat or emailing support is the most time-efficient way for staff to reach out for questions or troubleshooting, rather than calling the helpline.

Dermpath Lab

The working relationship between your dermatology clinic and the dermatopathology lab is critical to maintaining accurate and timely results for your patients. This alliance is particularly vital when you consider that a third of dermatologists work as solo practitioners.

One effective way to build this relationship is to establish open lines of communication. This includes providing accurate clinical information on your requisitions, conversations about difficult clinical cases, and correlation on challenging slides, such as alopecia or melanoma cases. In addition to quality assurance, these frequent conversations can also head off complicated billing issues before becoming a problem.

Your dermpath laboratory partner should keep you in supplies so your staff isn’t left scrambling to find requisition or shipping materials. The lab is also responsible for tracking samples from when they leave your practice until you receive the final results. 

Finding a lab that establishes an interface with your EMR can make a significant impact on your workflow. Instead of spending time managing paper charts and faxes, a full-service dermpath lab like PathologyWatch can return reports electronically into each patient’s EMR chart. Digital slides are also provided to the clinician along with the pathology report. This instantaneous, 24/7 access eliminates your MAs’ need to track and file paper trails and glass slides, leaving more time for meaningful patient correspondence. Also, labs like PathologyWatch offer broad insurance coverage and locum tenens contingencies, so there is always a backup ready to keep up with your tissue samples.  

Many dermatologists carry the daily pressure of meeting patient expectations while running a proficient and profitable clinic. By breaking down ways to make billing, EMR, and your dermpath lab partner work smarter and more efficiently, you may find ways to simplify and improve operations through your existing practice management tools.

Meet Rajni Mandal, MD, Clinical Research Associate in Dermatopathology for PathologyWatch 

Rajni Mandal, MD, is board-certified in anatomic pathology and dermatopathology with degrees from both Cornell University and Duke University. She completed a dermatopathology fellowship at New York University and a surgical pathology fellowship and anatomic pathology residency at Massachusetts General Hospital. 

She is a regular contributor to numerous publications in the fields of surgical pathology and dermatopathology and is a valuable consultant and content contributor for PathologyWatch

We sat down with Rajni to talk about her connection to the dermatopathology field and how this emerging field is impacting patient care.  

You had a unique and almost instant connection with pathology. Can you describe that moment? 

Early on, I found tumors so engaging—almost beautiful, in a way— when viewed under the microscope. I am fascinated by everything about the process. It was an unusual way of looking at the world, but it was a shared perspective. When I learned that other people had this fascination, I knew I had found my tribe and my calling. 

What do you think is the most rewarding part of working in the pathology field? 

In pathology, you give a diagnosis that has a direct impact on patient care. When a physician asks for an opinion on a diagnosis, its because they are reaching the end of the road to making a diagnosis before a biopsy. So the idea of consulting with pathology as part of the process to pinpoint a diagnosis is what I find most rewarding. I know that my diagnosis is taken seriously and ultimately contributes to that patient’s treatment options and care.

What strengths do you bring to PathologyWatch?

I come from a background of academics and private practice, and this experience has helped in the research and organizational side of the company. My academic experience during training, which included multiple publications, helped me develop a rigorous standard for data collection and interpretation, which has helped in developing the research tools at PathologyWatch. In private practice, I have experience in business development and laboratory startups, and this has served to advise the executive team in laboratory compliance, regulation, and marketing. Finally, I am a committed believer in the mission of the company and enjoy working with this amazing team.

What will PathologyWatch bring to the industry?

The field of pathology is riddled with misdiagnoses and a lack of access to quality care. PathologyWatch will improve the quality of care by facilitating standardized criteria for pathology diagnoses. This is a game-changer in the field and will improve the quality of care across the board. This is just the tip of the iceberg, as digital pathology technologies end up being more cost-effective in the long run, with quicker turnaround time. The benefits will trickle down to other facets of healthcare quickly.

What do you do in your spare time? (Besides being a superhero, of course.)

I am a binge reader and love fantasy and sci-fi novels.  I once read the last book of the Harry Potter series in one marathon sitting!  I also love playing board games with my family (even though I have the worst luck!).

Better Communication with Your Dermatopathology Laboratory Equals Better Results

As a dermatologist, you rely on your lab partner to provide correct diagnoses to ensure your patients receive the highest level of care. However, since communication errors are a major factor in up to 70 percent of adverse events, it’s easy to see how better communication with your dermatopathology laboratory can lead to better results.

Producing accurate results is a team effort. By identifying the information required for a definitive diagnosis, developing a communicative relationship, and enhancing communication through technology, you can help your dermatopathology lab consistently produce more valuable reports. 

Facilitating Definitive Diagnoses

When it comes to complicated diagnoses (such as rashes/eruptions), it’s safe to say dermatologists get out of it as much as they put into it. In cases like these, the value of the report you receive from the lab sometimes reflects the amount and quality of clinical information you share with the dermatopathologist.

For instance, including your differential diagnosis in the requisition form can help steer the dermatopathologist in the right direction. This is particularly helpful when it comes to the diagnosis of inflammatory skin diseases. The histological findings may be subtle, and comprehensive clinical information, including photos, may be needed to arrive at the most accurate diagnosis.  

By providing your dermatopathologist with clinical features, you can help ensure they have the required data to make a definitive diagnosis.

Relationships of Communication

When a dermatologist receives a report that is not definitive, it could be the result of the dermatopathologist not fully understanding the clinical scenario. In these cases, the dermatologist should be proactive and communicate with the dermatopathologist, providing any additional details for a more definitive diagnosis. For example, relevant information for an eruption may include the distribution, duration, symptoms, extent, and color. The dermatopathologist should also reach out to the dermatologist for more information when needed.

Meanwhile, dermatologists who value turnaround time and accurate results should make improving the relationship with the lab a priority. A survey of dermatopathologists showed that diagnoses were delayed due to lack of clinical information, as 45 percent of respondents spend more than 30 minutes a day tracking down clinical information that was not present on the order form. By voluntarily providing information upfront, following up as needed, and building relationships based on communication, you can help your dermatopathologist improve the quality of the lab results. 

Technology-Enhanced Information 

Digital tools can enhance laboratory reporting and enable clinicians to better correlate findings. For example, an EMR interface can simplify the transfer of data between your clinic and the lab. This can reduce the chances of errors by replacing handwriting and carbon copies. In clinics where handwritten requisition forms are used, digital tools provided by PathologyWatch enhance clinic flexibility by providing various reporting options. 

PathologyWatch also supports clients interested in enhanced EMR reporting options. Where available, these EMR interfaces can provide the dermatopathologist with valuable clinical information, including clinical photos, visit notes, and the history of present illness to the laboratory. In addition, PathologyWatch is able to deliver results that speed up dermatologist report review and sign-off within their clinic. 

By providing clinical features, taking a proactive role in communicating, and considering technology options to support your communication, you can experience better communication with your dermatopathology laboratory to produce better results.