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Reimbursement and Practice Management

Patient Focused Excellence Every Day

The expression, “People don’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care,” is as relevant today as it ever was.

After reading this article you will know how to identify 12 different ways of distinguishing your specialty practice in the marketplace by providing superior patient experiences beyond the exam room, operating room or procedure suite.

View related pearls

Providing a distinguished patient experience is essential in today’s healthcare environment — impacted by decreased reimbursement, increasing patient payments and higher patient expectations. Successful specialty practices recognize they are not only providing excellent clinical care — they also recognize they are running a service business.

Let’s examine some service tips that might distinguish your group from others in your market.

The Patient Perspective. It may be surprising what someone can discern about your care philosophy, mission and patient focus simply by walking through your clinic. To see things from your patient’s perspective, try walking in their shoes. Park your vehicle in the patient parking lot or garage midmorning. Is the parking convenient? Is signage accurate? Are directions and signs easy to read?

Clinics located on a hospital campus or in a large medical complex need to be sure all directories are up-to-date. Also assure the volunteer staff know who you are and where you are located. You might consider asking an out-of-town guest try to find your clinic. Is your location accessible and convenient?

Walk into the clinic at a particularly busy time. Sit in the reception area early in the morning or at the end of a busy day. Is the seating comfortable and appropriate to your patient population? Is the area neat and clean? Are forms, check-in/check-out and required paperwork handled confidentially and are there staff available to assist if there are questions if you have self-service kiosks? Evaluating your practice from the patient’s perspective can help improve key aspects of your clinical and business service.

Ongoing Staff Training. Whether you train staff yourself or hire someone else to do it, be sure to provide every staff member (within their scope of duties) with the information and power to make patient-focused decisions. Make training sessions brief, to the point, timely and fun. Be sure to include customer service tips in every training opportunity. Try the PRN medical-minute mini-huddle to highlight a customer service tip or to recognize top-notch service. When you “catch a staff member doing something right” — like exceptional patient care or care support — use the example to train others.

Effective Patient Communication Systems. Call your office during regular hours and after hours to evaluate telephone, voicemail and answering systems. Is the person answering the phone responsive, courteous and truly helpful? Is the voicemail message accurate and easy to understand? Does your answering service reflect your standard of care giving? If you have a patient portal be sure to check it for ease of navigation, simplicity, accuracy and functionality. Ask yourself, “Is this how I would like communication systems to work for me if I were the patient?” Once you know how the systems are working you can make necessary adjustments to improve the patient experience.

Patient Feedback. Some clinic directors or management staff makes periodic proactive “Friday phone calls” to solicit feedback from patients. Typically these are done within a few weeks of an office visit or procedure. Take 30-45 minutes once a month to check in with patients. Be sure to share the results of these calls (unedited) during staff updates.

Include your patients in the practice advisory groups (e.g. website annual or quarterly review committee). You can thank them with gift certificates to local vendors. Provide refreshments and ease of access (e.g. parking, time of day, location) if you include patients. Your openness to patient insights demonstrates you’re your commitment to patient caring — keeping the patient at the center of care. Don’t forget to provide follow-up to the meeting with examples of what changed based on the collective input.

Tidy Times. Ask staff to conduct “neat sweeps” periodically throughout the day, especially heavy traffic areas. As they are tidying, staff can engage patients in informal conversation providing an added level of comfort.

Patient Inconvenience – Note and Correct. If there are certain providers in the practice that are chronically late, ask them to be the ones to communicate directly with the patient who is inconvenienced. Consider having the provider offer a simple acknowledgement of tardiness (e.g. $5 gift card to a local coffee shop). The gift cannot exceed a nominal amount (<$10) and could be deducted from the tardy provider’s compensation. Behaviors often change more quickly when there is tangible reinforcement.

Convenience Perks. Randomly select an established patient each day or once a week for parking validation or valet service (nominal value) good for their next visit. You might consider having the “employee of the month” or another exemplary employee present the “convenience perk” to the patient.

Keep Your Promises. Reliability is essential to building trust with patients. Keep the promises you make to them. Start on time, end on time, return a call, send the report or contact the referral source as you might have promised. Think carefully before you make the promise — a broken promise is hard to fix.

Active Listening. Demonstrate your care and concern for patients by being an active listener. When you listen with “one ear” your patients can tell you are distracted or multi-tasking. Active listening can actually save time. Patients oftentimes disclose key information about what medical concern brings them to your office on the day of their appointment with you the specialist in less time than following a predetermined query of the patient. You’ll earn and maintain patient trust when you, in turn, demonstrate it to them.

Complaint Handling. Train staff at all levels of the clinic to be good listeners and empower them to appropriately respond to complaints. While people don’t like hearing complaints, taking an active approach to addressing them can potentially bring about improvements in care and service for future patients. Complaint resolution oftentimes brings more than awareness — it leads to a better future patient experience.

Answering the Ask. Providing a meaningful and memorable positive patient experience is essential to long-term success. If a person asks how to complete a form, how to access the patient portal, interpret a term or has another question; remember, you may have heard the question many times previously — yet it is “the question of the moment” for that patient. Wait, or come back to the patient, to see if they have additional questions. People appreciate and notice when an extra effort is made for them. If it’s memorable they’ll tell others.

Borrow from Better Performers. Patient experience or customer service tips from other clinics, hospitals or even other service-based industries can be quite useful. What do you like about the service or environment of care at your own doctor’s office? Or, what are some things you definitely want to avoid. You can borrow ideas from better performers and shape them to suit your own clinic’s needs.

Whether its additional information about their care plan, the disease state, resources for ongoing well-being, or a genuine smile — people love to get more than they expected. Small gestures can make a big impact. Perhaps a small bottle of water (custom-labeled with your branding) for the trip home can be considered — improving the patient experience and extending the brand. Everything — from the first referral call or webpage information request to the last clinic interaction must be considered an opportunity for your specialty group to be the best care provider for that person. It could be at the initial office visit, follow-up visit, pre and post-procedure, billing or making financial arrangements.

Every person on your staff should bring positive energy and a patient-focused attitude to the job — every day. After all, patient care is delivered locally and one person at a time.

Patient Focused Practices:

  • Evaluate the clinic from the patient’s perspective
  • Provide staff service training routinely
  • Refine patient communication systems
  • Gather feedback from patients regularly
  • Maintain a welcoming environment
  • Note and correct patient inconveniences
  • Instill trust
  • Sharpen listen-abilities
  • Provide convenience perks
  • Handle complaints with aplomb
  • Answer the patient “asks”
  • Learn about smart service ideas from others


Pearl: The View

Perceptions are vital in creating an excellent patient care experience. Getting “up close and personal” with your clinic periodically is one way to appreciate the patients view of you. Take time to visit the office during regular hours, check your website functionality or patient communications systems as a patient might. And, don’t forget to routinely ask for patient feedback on their care experience. And, if you don’t like it — chances are patient don’t either.

Pearl: Answering the Asks

Answering a frequently asked patient question might seem redundant for you and your staff. Remember, this might be the first time the patient is asking or they do not understand the answer previously provided. The adage, “There is no such thing as a dumb question, except for the one you don’t ask”, holds true across the service continuum. It holds true from the first phone call to chronic disease care provided over many years. Fortunately, we have many secure communication channels to answer questions today. So, make a courteous reply and follow-up if future action is required.

Pearl: You ARE Welcome

The environment of care is a “first impression” of the clinical visit each time a patient is seen. Oftentimes a welcoming environment can set the tone for entire visit. Patients really don’t want to visit the clinic unless they really have to because they really aren’t feeling well. Let them know they are welcome through the signage, a pleasant waiting room, engaged reception, during clinical care, all the way to the end of the visit. And don’t forget, a smile with a warm greeting from each person the patient sees during the visit also says “You ARE welcome here”.

Pearl: Listener-Abled

Patient concerns and complaints do occasionally come up at a medical office. Often patients simply aren’t feeling good – so listening to a complaint may become part of the cure during their visit. Being a good listener validates their perceived concern. Being an active listener indicates engagement -- the patient feels they are being heard. Being an empowered listener can instill an honest sense of hope for reaching an appropriate resolution – even if it is not immediate. Through careful listening, opportunities for improvement beyond the immediate concern may also arise. These improvements can in turn distinguish your group as taking patient concerns seriously and making positive changes.

United States