Greg Hood, MD, Internal Medicine, 11:02PM Apr 15, 2012
Can you articulate your value, the uniqueness of your practice, or the message you have for the patient’s health in 140 characters or less? If not, today’s Americans may not be able to tune into your wavelength. This blog entry, ironically, will attempt to discuss this phenomenon in more than 140 characters, but such is life.
If you haven’t noticed, the attention spans of American patients/customers are shorter than ever before. And at the same time you face much more competition for their attention. From cases that I have followed up on from instant care clinics the health care providers commonly appear unconcerned with not having any background on patients when they treat a 78 year old with pneumonia the same way they would treat an 18 year old.
Further, the competition for the patient’s attention is not limited to others providing face to face encounters. TV programs, paid radio programs, internet searches, list servs and other electronic barrages presaturate your patient’s mind and attention before you ever get a chance to examine them. Twitter and medical, even disease specific news feeds, from Alzheimer’s to the West Nile Virus, are competing with you to capture the attention of your patients and educate them.
Historically, physicians, pharmacists, and other health care professionals engaged in continuity of care have sought to educate patients in depth about their illness and their medications. Today; however, with a great many patients, one must break through the clutter, captivate your patients, and persuade them to be compliant. Even when initially successful, there is the very real risk that the understanding gained will quickly fade back into the background static, nothing retained, nothing gained.
News anchors and others are pros at distilling a complex story into a 60 second or less delivery. The problem is obvious. When was the last time you watched a news story about your field of medicine and were left with the conclusion that the network had been completely accurate and effective in communicating the message and issues? Likely never. Unfortunately, this type of information delivery is what patients are now thoroughly accustomed to. This is your challenge. This is what they are conditioned to expect.
Many forms of medical advice can be bundled into 140 character packages, or fewer. Diet and exercise advice for weight loss and health, for example, might be distilled for some patients into a statement such as, “Exercise 7 hours a week. Eat lean meat, any fruit, and avoid foods from wheat, potatoes and corn syrup as much as possible.”
Unfortunately, since what we are dealing with is our patients’ attention span as one of many barriers to achieving enduring behavioral change, a brief message alone is insufficient. One must not only devise and practice means of delivering more information by saying less, but do so in ways that capture the mind, provide clear vision and motivation.
Understanding the motivation of patients, and combining this with illuminating for them what your motivation is are momentous challenges. However, it is only through understanding the motivation for each specific patient at this specific point in their life that one may deliver an on target, brief, effective message. Once this is done, you may find that you’ve opened a door for this patient through which they will be ready to affect change, including reading or hearing more lengthy deliveries of disease and health information.
If you practice this, and become effective in communicating with patients in concise and inspiring ways then you will be appropriately perceived as unique and beloved by patients. Even if you master the 140 character communication style it’s probably not time to announce your presence and this ability on Twitter itself, but rest assured, patients will be atwitter about you.