Patients embark on their surgical journey as soon as they walk through the doors of your office. Every step of the process is important – from the length of time spent in the waiting room, to the interaction with the surgeon, to the paperwork received prior to surgery, and of course the outcome of the procedure itself.
Undergoing surgery can be an unsettling experience for patients, but there are steps your practice can take to help alleviate patients’ worries – starting with the right paperwork.
Many practices underestimate the importance of clear and concise patient letters with pre-op instructions – and pay the price with confused patients, unnecessary follow-up calls and ultimately, cancelled surgeries.
The good news is that customized letters are easy to produce and have a remarkably positive impact on your patients’ surgical experience.
Read on to learn how…
First impressions matter for patients
Imagine you are a patient about to undergo a total shoulder reconstruction under general anesthesia. Your encounter with the surgeon was very positive and you feel convinced that the surgery is necessary. But the decision is not an easy one. The surgery will cost you money out-of-pocket, you will have to pay for the OR time and the anesthesiologist, and take time off work to recover afterwards. The days following your meeting with the surgeon still leave you feeling somewhat uncertain… and then you receive this pre-op letter in the mail:
Seriously? The form looks like a photocopy of a fax that was scanned in 1998. The company logo is outdated, the lines are crooked, and you can barely see the date your surgery is scheduled for. Parts of the letter have been crossed out because the protocols don’t apply to you. Other paragraphs have been added by hand because there are certain pre-appointments you need to attend.
The surgical scheduler has handwritten the information into the letter – as she did for all the other paperwork for your surgery – but being strapped for time, much of it is illegible and you can’t decipher the essential information.
This ‘letter’ is your final impression of the surgical practice before you go under the knife. Not very comforting, is it?
More than just a patient letter
Now imagine that you receive this letter in the mail instead:
What a difference! A neat and organized letter with all of your customized information, including pre-op instructions tailored specifically for your surgery. Since everything is laid out so clearly, you won’t need to call the practice to clarify any information, and now you feel confident that everything is set and under control for the surgery.
Aside from providing a better overall patient experience, customized paperwork greatly benefits practices, too. There are fewer cancellations due to instructions not being followed or scheduling miscommunication. And, just as importantly, the practice imparts a more professional image.
How to improve your patient letters
There are many ways to improve patient letters – ultimately it’s a question of how much time and effort you’re able to invest. To keep things simple, we’ve grouped the best practices into Beginner, Advanced and Ultimate.
BEGINNER Patient Letters
Just making a few small changes to your patient letters can make a big difference. We recommend the following steps:
- Re-draft the letter using Microsoft Word or other word processing software.
- Use an up-to-date logo.
- If there are different protocols for different surgeries, create a few templates of the letter that are clearly labeled for each surgery type. This way, you can provide patients with clear and concise information relevant to their particular surgery.
- Type the patient’s specific information instead of handwriting it.
- Highlight important dates and times so they stand out.
- For each patient, remove paragraphs not applicable to their surgery.
- Save the template of the forms in a folder or on your network and label them appropriately.
- Create one folder for each surgeon / surgery type / hospital.
ADVANCED Patient Letters
Use a mail merge to automatically produce multiple patient letters from a single template and a data source. You can use any word processor and data source software – in this guide we’ll explain how to do this using two of the most popular programs – Microsoft Word and Microsoft Excel.
- Use Microsoft Word to draft a concise generic patient letter. Collaborate with your coworkers to ensure that they can use the letter as well, to eliminate the need for multiple versions. Make sure that formatting is perfect, the font is large enough for the visually impaired, and the logo is up-to-date.
- Leave blank spaces where information will differ from letter to letter, e.g. patient first name, surgeon name, procedure name, date, hospital, etc.
- Name the document appropriately and save it on the office network where everyone who needs it can easily access it.
- Use a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet to create lists of all information that will need to be inserted into the letter. For example, create columns for PatientTitle, PatientFirstName, PatientLastName, SurgeonName, ProcedureType, PostOpAppointmentDate and any other information that could change within the letter.
- Save the Excel spreadsheet under a recognizable name, in the same folder as the letter, e.g. if the letter file is called PatientLetterTemplate.docx, name the Excel file PatientLetterData.xlsx
- Reopen the patient letter template in Word.
- Select Select Recipients > Use an Existing List. Select the Excel file containing the patient letter data. An Open Workbook dialog box will appear. Click OK.
- Now enter data field tags in the letter that correspond to the data fields in the Excel file.
Put your cursor in one of the blank spaces you left in the letter, earlier. Select Insert Merge Field > Use an Existing List. In the dialog box that appears, select the database field you want to insert in this space, then click Insert.
Repeat this step until the letter is populated with all the relevant fields. Remember to save your document when you’re done!
- Double-check that all the fields have been inserted correctly by pressing Preview Results and browsing through your letters using the arrow keys.
- When you’re done, press Finish & Merge > Print Documents.
In the dialog box that appears, you can choose to print letters for all patients, print the letter that’s currently open, or print a series of letters. Make your selection, then press OK. Depending on your computer’s printer settings, you should be able to choose between printing to a physical printer or a virtual PDF printer.
You did it!
By following the above steps you can also generate customized envelopes and labels.
ULTIMATE Patient Letters
Use Surgimate to generate all customized patient letters, as well as insurance and hospital paperwork, with just one click:
- Store all of your practice’s forms inside Surgimate and print on-demand
- Enter surgical details in seconds with customized templates
- With one click, print any form you need with all fields automatically populated – including patient data, insurance information, and surgical details – all with 100% accuracy
- Email or fax forms directly to the hospital or insurance vendors, or save them as PDFs for future use
Take a sneak peek here