Improving the patient-doctor relationship can improve engagement

March 6th, 2014

What is a patient? Is it simply a customer, paying dentists and physicians to take management over personal care, or do patients play a more crucial role in the health care process?

For a long time, the medical community has followed a passive-patient and dominant-doctor model. People make an appointment, explain their problem and then the attending professional works his or her medical magic. However, medicine is an increasingly complicated science, and effective treatment requires a considerable effort on the part of the patient. Unfortunately, the popular passive-patient model is proving ineffective in engaging people in their own care, according to a study. For university clinics struggling to keep patients actively interested in their own oral health, dental academic software can greatly improve communication and engagement.

Published in the Health Services and Research journal, the study examined the role patient-doctor relationships play in improving care. Researchers surveyed more than 8,000 individuals from across the U.S. and found that improving patient engagement was only a matter of four distinct factors:

1. The quality of existing relationships with doctors
2. The amount of respect and fairness patients felt they received
3. The patient's involvement in determining the treatment goals
4. The frequency of communications outside the office

Researchers found that each of the above contributed in some small way to how active patients were in their own care, but none so much as the quality of the existing relationship.

During the study, people were asked to answer pointed questions about their unique health care experiences by assigning unit values to certain aspects of care. The results showed that by improving the quality of a patient-doctor relationship by a measure of one unit, people were ten times more likely to take an active role in their health care. Researchers found specifically that patients with higher scores better adhered to medication regimens and committed to a more healthy lifestyle overall.

"Physicians set the tone for making the patient aware that they have some control over their health," Jeffrey  Alexander, professor at the University of Michigan and the study's lead author, said. "The patient takes a cue from what the doctor does. If the doctor conveys an all-knowing 'I make the decisions' attitude, the patient will revert to a passive role," he said.

Using dental software to improve relationships
It's easy to say a better patient-doctor relationship is good for overall health, but maintaining strong communication can be exceedingly difficult for dentists seeing multiple patients daily. Through dental school software, university clinics can streamline their offices and give dentists and patients alike the technical avenues necessary for strengthening relationships and keeping on communications even after appointments.

The software comes equipped with several communicative advances, especially in regards to automated patient reminders and appointment confirmations. With little effort, dentists can ensure each and every patient is receiving regular communications through email, text and even phone calls. Patients can use online portals to explore archives of educational videos, helping them to learn and stay engaged in their own care. When determining treatment schedules, the system's built-in electronic health records allows staff to discuss options with the patient right then and there, which can help keep patients active in their treatments once they leave.

Dental software is not guaranteed to make dentists and patients best friends, and it can't force people to stay engaged in their own oral hygiene. But the advances provided by the system will give staff the tools necessary for improving overall care.

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