When it comes to patient care and retention, the companion — someone who joins the patient at their health care appointment — plays a more important role than many providers realize. Learn why companions matter, how to recruit and engage them, and what to do if they’re not present.
The Case for Companions
Whether they’re a spouse, best friend, adult child, or other loved one who knows the patient well and has interacted with them in listening situations, companions benefit both the patient and the provider.
They’re an extra set of ears at the typical 60- to 90-minute appointment that will likely cover a lot of information, noted senior professional development manager Jesse Tervooren in an Audigy webcast, and they offer a unique perspective on the patient’s hearing or lack thereof in their usual environment.
“A husband might notice when his wife is turning up the television, whereas the wife doesn’t notice it because it’s just part of her routine,” said Tervooren. “So having that extra perspective from someone who’s with the patient in a lot of everyday listening situations can really help shed some light on what some of those challenges might be.”
It can also help the companion understand what the patient is experiencing, notes Tervooren, potentially leading the companion to become a more effective advocate for the patient.
In addition, companions can positively influence appointment outcomes.
“The data we’ve collected in the countless practices we work with [show] a positive correlation [between] having a companion present in the appointment and the patient’s willingness to move forward with treatment and pursue technology,” says Tervooren. “We typically see about a 10 percent to 20 percent increase in [patient acceptance] just when that companion is present in that appointment process.”
Recruiting and Engaging Companions
How can you ensure a companion’s presence at the appointment and effectively engage them? Make it routine, and treat them like family.
Some staff may feel hesitant to broach the subject with a patient — Will they feel offended? What if they don’t have anyone? — but normalizing it in the appointment-setting process, communicating compassionately, and focusing on the benefits of companions opens doors.
“It all starts with how you frame it; you need to explain why you’re asking this question so that the patient doesn’t think you’re being intrusive,” advises Tervooren. One way to frame it, offered Tervooren:
Dr. Sager finds it very important when you have a companion present at your appointment. You’re going to be in the office for about 90 minutes, and we’re going to cover a lot of information. So having an extra set of ears can be incredibly helpful. Who will you be bringing with you next Tuesday?
Once the patient and companion are secured in the appointment process, it’s all about maximizing the interaction and ultimately moving the patient forward in better hearing.
“If you have a companion there, it’s so important that you address them, you introduce yourself to them,” said Tervooren. “You start from the very beginning of the appointment, making sure they know how important they are, how happy you are that they’re there, and show them that by engaging them at every step of the process.”
- Make sure the room is welcoming, with both the patient and the companion seated at the desk with the provider, for example, versus seating the companion in a corner. Placement of the companion is important, reflecting the significance they bring to the table.
- During the consultation, be sure to bring in the companion’s perspective by using Audigy’s companion questionnaire in conjunction with the 10-question hearing-health assessment.
- Consider having the companion provide the completed questionnaire in advance, allowing the provider to refer to that information as needed when hearing the patient’s perspective on how Sound Voids, those missed moments of clarity, impact his or her life.
Overcoming the Missing Companion
What’s the solution if a patient arrives without a companion? Will this affect the quality of the appointment? How can you overcome the companion’s absence?
In the companion’s absence, you can still successfully leverage the concept:
- If you already know that the companion can’t attend, mail the questionnaire in advance and ask the patient to bring the completed document to the appointment.
- During the appointment, ask your patient what the companion would think — how their husband would respond, what their daughter would say, or what their significant other would most want for them.
- If the patient hesitates to move forward on solutions, ask them what the companion would suggest. “What I hear time and time again from providers is that their patients will say, ‘Well, [my companion is] actually the one who made me book this appointment today,’” said Tervooren, “or ‘[My companion’s] been asking me to do something about it for the past six months, so they’d probably just tell me to go for it.’”
- Use the Acknowledge, Motivate, and Ask method, validating concerns with statements such as “I completely understand wanting to talk this over. It’s a big decision. Let’s set up a time later this week when you can both come in, and we can go through any questions or concerns you have. I have appointments open Thursday or Friday. Which works better for you?”
- Ask the patient to call their companion — or set up a video chat — so they can help the patient make the decision right then rather than push the appointment out. “Try to get them on the phone,” advised Tervooren, “or try to get an appointment booked before they leave the office.”
- Ask the patient what questions their companion would have if they were present. This helps educate the patient on how to have that conversation with the companion. You can then tailor your answers to those questions, helping the patient have that conversation with the companion after leaving the office.
If you’re unable to get the companion on the phone or the patient leaves without scheduling the next-step appointment, nothing beats the power of a personal follow-up.
“Call [the patient] directly as the provider,” said Tervooren. “It makes a big impact when the person who actually saw them in the consultation, sat through the conversation, and truly understands their objection is the one to make the phone call and check in” on their specific concerns.
Did you know? Companion engagement is just one component of Audigy’s proven Patients for Life® program, which helps our members cultivate exceptional practices. Contact us today to learn more about these services.