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Using SMOG to resolve patient communication challenges in imaging

September 23, 2022
Business Affairs
Stefanie Manack
From the October 2022 issue of HealthCare Business News magazine

By Stefanie A. Manack

Incalculable amounts of time, energy and resources have been spent on improving communication between imaging departments and their patients. Appointment reminders through texts, access to test results in real time, and a myriad of informational and instructional documents and websites are shared with patients in an effort to close the information gap. Patients are given detailed instructions on a host of topics when they schedule their imaging appointment. This is often followed up with a reminder call and a repeat of exam and prep instructions, appointment time confirmations, and other information to ensure a successful exam. Imaging departments spend an inordinate amount of time in the creation and upkeep of patient facing documents and websites to inform patients about their imaging exams.

And yet, imaging leaders are still managing almost daily schedule gaps and delays in care because patients arrive at their appointment unprepared for the exam, late for their appointment or with an incorrect understanding of what the procedure entails. Leaders endeavor to improve and refine the processes by which information is shared, often adding more layers of information from text reminders and emails to phone calls from a knowledgeable team member.

There is no shortage of tools or creative efforts undertaken to solve patient communication challenges by addressing access to information and the communication process itself (how information is transmitted or exchanged). Leaders and process improvement professionals alike have worked tirelessly to improve patient access to information and internal processes for disseminating that information.

But it’s not enough to simply make information available. It must be clear and easily understood by patients. All the process improvement efforts and new shiny tools won’t make a difference if we don’t understand exactly why our efforts in this area are less successful than we had hoped. Improving access and communication processes can be part of a solution to be sure. But by setting our sights solely on improving processes and tools, we overlook a basic but critically important piece of the puzzle – are patients getting information they can truly understand and use?

The definition of health literacy was updated in August 2020 with the release of the U.S. government’s Healthy People 2030 initiative. This update addresses, for the very first time, personal health literacy and organizational health literacy. It defines organizational health literacy as “the degree to which organizations equitably enable individuals to find, understand and use information and services to inform health-related decisions and actions for themselves and others.” This puts the onus on healthcare organizations to ensure that the information patients receive can be clearly understood so they can use it to make decisions about their care. This is where the unique challenge – and opportunity – to focus our attention on health literacy comes in.

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