Medicine has become a competitive industry. Like in so many services, patients have an endless number of choices, and there is an abundance of information to help them make informed decisions. It is with great certainty that I declare without a focus on customer experience and patient satisfaction you cannot expect a healthcare practice to thrive in today’s environment. The lifecycle of a patient is a long and multi-stepped process that requires care and attention at every touch point. The following is a small sampling of best practices that will prove that your focus is on treating your patients well at every stage of engagement:
Often, the first experience that a patient has with a medical office is the initial phone call. A prospective patient will call the office for a host of reasons – office hours, insurance inquiries, appointments, billing and so on. No matter the reason, the perception and feeling that the person is left with will pave the way for the future relationship between the practice/doctor and the patient.
Here are a few pointers that will help ensure that your patients have a feel-good experience and book that appointment:
- When answering the phone, introduce yourself. Let the caller know who you are and ask how you can assist.
- Address the caller by name throughout the call. This will personalize the experience and create a comfortable environment.
- If you must place the caller on hold, first ask if it would be okay (e.g., “Mr. Jones, would it be alright if I place you on a brief hold?”). This provides the caller with a perception that he is in control. Also, it’s just polite.
- If the caller is looking for information that is more complicated than a typical call or if the question is not clear, repeat the question to ensure that the proper information is provided (e.g., “Mrs. Smith, if I understand correctly, you are looking to find out whether your insurance claim has been processed. Is that correct?”). This will leave her with confidence that she is receiving accurate information.
- Never, ever, ever end the call abruptly or make a negative remark. Even if you believe that the caller had disconnected, make it a habit of thanking the person and letting the person know that he/she can call back at any time. (It’s best to be on the safe side; you never know who might still be lingering silently.)
More and more people are communicating virtually. Busy schedules, availability of computers/mobile devices and embarrassing subject matter make email communication a comfort zone. It’s time to take a good hard look at your website. Is contact information, including a phone number and an email address, easily found? Can customers reach out right then and there using a conspicuous inquiry form? If the answer is not a resounding “yes!” it’s time to make some changes.
Other than guaranteeing your office can be contacted quickly and easily, the most important detail is that the patient receives a prompt and professional response.
Here are some things to keep in mind when responding electronically:
- Canned, pre-written responses are not appropriate for every situation. Be sure to read and understand what the patient is asking. A response that doesn’t properly address the question is a sure-fire way to alienate a person.
- If a phone number is provided, use it. Returning an inquiry with a personal and speedy phone call shows that you care and you’re available to help.
- In the event that a phone number is not available, an email response is imperative. All website forms and emails should be directed to an inbox that is monitored often throughout the day.
- Follow up! One attempt to reach the person is not sufficient. Once the person hits send, the onus is on you to resolve the inquiry. Email again, call again. Don’t harass, but make sure that you have let the person know that you are there to help.
Physical Environment and Personal Interaction
A patient walks into the office … this is not the start of a bad joke. When the patient enters the waiting room and approaches the front desk, there are a number of observations that will lead to an overall first impression. This will easily make the difference between a repeat patient and a one-timer. Not only that but think about the friends and family to whom the patient might recommend your practice. Word of mouth travels far and wide. Take control of the message right out of the gate:
- Create a comfortable and clean environment. While every effort should be made to minimize wait time, it’s important to make certain that patients are able to relax during this possibly unpleasant experience.
- Offer free Wi-Fi. This can provide a distraction so that the patient can focus on something other than fear or discomfort.
- Provide the front-office staff with proper guidance and customer service training. As the patient’s first stop, this team is responsible for the first, and arguably, most impactful impression.
- Equally as important as the greeting is the way patients are discharged. Make sure they are given all of the information they need. Ask them about their experience (patient review cards are a great tool). Let them know you care.
Your job is not done when the patient walks out of the office. There are plenty of opportunities to continue to build trust and loyalty and to demonstrate that the patient is valued:
- Reach out to see how the patient is feeling. Make a follow-up call to ensure that the treatment was satisfactory and that the patient is on his/her way to recovery.
- Recognize patients who recommend your services. Showing your appreciation is a nice touch and will undoubtedly lead to additional referrals.
- Ask patients who have expressed their appreciation for a recommendation. In today’s information age, online reviews can make or break a practice. Don’t be ashamed to ask for a good word when it’s truly deserved.
These recommendations merely scratch the surface of the best practices in patient service. What we know for sure is that gone are the days that the doctor’s ability to cure a patient’s ailment is the end all, be all. Medicine is a service industry, and society has grown to expect a lot from our doctors and their staff – just like we do at a high-end spa, a car dealership or a restaurant.
At Points Group, our full-service consulting and marketing team can help your practice realize its full potential. We can’t teach you medicine, but we can surely coach you toward premier patient experience. Contact us today to learn more. We promise to respond promptly.