Are You Doing Enough? Patient Service in an Era of Health Care Reform
Many factors influence how you practice medicine. Competition from urgent care centers, so-called minute clinics and the Internet have all, no doubt, affected the way you manage your practice. But one thing has not changed: your need to satisfy your customer, the patient.
In this era of change, attention to current patients (as well as their families) and the potential for future referrals is crucial. Alternative providers came into business because some needs of patients weren’t being met. These businesses studied the market and patients’ needs, and they found creative ways to meet them. Physician practices that are unsuccessful in tending to patient needs will likely see a leveling or slow decline in their volumes.
Competing With Choice
Patients no longer choose doctors from a list at the local hospital or insurance carrier, call for an appointment, and show up willing to wait an hour or two because you’re running behind. Patients use craigslist, Angie’s List and the Internet to learn how good your quality is as measured by public opinion, not clinical efficacy.
Most physician offices provide quality medical care, but quite a few fall short in their quality of service. Competitors excel by finding out what the customer wants and giving it to them. And most patients can’t distinguish the subtle differences in medical care and continuity that set apart private practice from other models.
Achieving quality of service must begin with physicians who lead by example, setting a patient-service standard for staff to follow. How the billing clerk interacts with a patient is just as important as how the front desk staff answers the phone. Both have ample opportunity to either strengthen the patient’s loyalty or alienate the patient-doctor relationship.
Remember your staff sees — rather than hears — what’s important. What you, as a physician, do demonstrates to your team the importance of good patient service.
Interviewing for Success
Attention to patient service should begin as early as when you interview candidates for a staff position. Prioritize their ability to provide good service.
Was the candidate on time for the interview? Is he or she friendly and polite with the other staff? Is the candidate’s appearance clean and neat? Are his or her resumé and other written materials free from errors and omissions? If a candidate doesn’t go the extra mile at this point, you probably shouldn’t expect him or her to do so when interacting with patients.
For current staff, regularly compliment them for patient-service successes, and counsel them on ways they can improve. During each employee’s annual review, include an evaluation of initiative to deliver excellent quality service.
Offering Convenience, Showing Respect
Successful physician practices provide prompt access to health care through appointments and advice over the phone. But most patients seek more than medicine; they seek hope, compassion, and a physician and staff who are genuinely kind and understanding. They want someone to really listen and not rush them through a visit or call.
Access is key: Many of your competitors offer a wider variety of options than those in typical physician offices — especially for working patients and parents. Even loyal patients may seek out alternative sources of care if they can’t secure an appointment or satisfactory resolution by phone in a timely manner.
Also important is showing respect for patients. You can demonstrate this in many ways, but few are more important than privacy. Patients must be able to trust their personal information, be it financial or health¬care-related, will remain confidential. Forbid conversations about patients in open areas so patients won’t wonder what staff may say about them or their health issues after they leave the premises.
In addition, showing respect for a patient’s time — giving it the same importance as the physician’s — will likely earn high satisfaction ratings. Enthusiasm helps, too. Visiting a physician’s office should make patients feel better, even if it’s only emotionally until treatment brings physical improvement. Encourage staff to be upbeat and positive. Ask them to get to know patients’ names and use them frequently to build the positivity that comes with recognition.
To keep up with the plethora of competitors that have arisen in recent years, you must identify what your patients want in terms of service and convenience and give it to them. But you can’t stop there. You need to go one step further and deliver the kind of warm, friendly, encouraging patient service that will keep them coming back for more than just the great health care you provide.