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How to grow your practice in a patient-centric way
Offer a great experience at every encounter
Your best patients can be characterized in many ways. Those who frequent your rooms most often, those who hold you high esteem, those who comply best with the treatment you prescribe, etc., etc.
Health care practitioners who have been around for a while soon come to the understanding that satisfied patients are terrific evangelists who can help grow their practices. Pleasant treatment, care and handling your patients receive at your rooms is easily cemented into their minds. And when medical or health care issues are later discussed behind your back, they eagerly relate the experience they had with family, friends and colleagues.
Humans, being creatures of habit, exhibit repeated behavior - often reacting unconsciously to certain triggers. If the last medical encounter with your practice was anchored positively, you can count on their repeat loyalty for a long time. Even if you mess up every now and then. Show me any private health care practitioner who does not want more of that? It may not be exactly priceless, but can you even put a price to it?
It is the role of the practice manager to cultivate this patient experience pro-actively. Why leave this opportunity to cultivate and profit from the encounter to chance? Why would you sabotage all that potential goodwill with an encounter that doesn't live up to the expectations of your patients?
A patient-focused practice that keeps patients happy has a few stand-out characteristics that encourages them to come back for a repeat of the experience.
A deep level of trust with your patient is established when you and your staff consistently deliver a very high level of patient care. Not only must you cultivate a great bed-side manner but you also need to avoid common patient-repelling slip-ups.
When your staff are neither trained nor empowered. A medical practice is a people's business. It is a given that only staff who exhibit these characteristics will be hired. It is one thing to only train for the technical skills required on the job. Patient-service training gives your staff members the tools and confidence to handle upset patients graciously.
Patients demand near-instant resolution to their issues. Something that starts small can quickly escalate to an issue of major proportions if your staff lacks the savvy to handle it—or if they are powerless and cannot do anything to move closer to a resolution. The practice managemer should ensure that the front-line team has the knowledge, savvy, ability—and power—to resolve any issue at the point of contact.
You're right, they're wrong. As Bill Clinton learnt to his detriment, perception is reality in the eyes of the patient. Does it profit you to win the argument if you end up losing the patient?
First thing to do is apologize. Acknowledge that the patient is feeling upset. Remember that when we're angry or disappointed, we want to hear that someone else acknowledges how wee feel. So, acknowledge the patient’s feelings first, a good idea is to paraphrase what they are saying, and only then seek a solution. The blame game has no place in the rendering of superb patient service.
Is the patient always right? Of course not. But if agitated patients believe you are at fault, arguing the point will only aggravate the situation. And they will leave. And spread negative word-of-mouth. Instead, express regret at their disappointment with your service, or experience at your practice; give them a hearing; and then explain what you plan do do to fix it.
Over-relying on technology. Technology is great at making us more efficient, but it can also put up a barrier between you and your patient. Make no mistake, in this our high-tech world, human touch is more important than ever.
Allow for the opportunity for your patients to reach out and touch a real person at your practice if they have an issue. Pointing an already irate patient to a wall-chart or sign in your rooms, or sending them from one person to another is only going to frustrate them even more.
Get the patient to interact with an empathetic staff member as quickly as possible. Ensure that a real person is available to receive verbal communication and interact with a patient who has a problem.
Evangelistic patient service doesn't just happen. It needs to be cultivated. From the top. Follow the steps above is a great way to being recognized as a great doctor running a great practice.
Fudley Bezuidenhout Pr.Eng. - a practice management consultant who runs the organization called Better Practice Management from Cape Town, South Africa. Their flagship product called Medinol Practice Management Software has been helping private doctors and dentists since 1984 submit their billing and claims to medical aids and patients.