Patient-Focused Service: Every Day
Successful medical care is founded on clinical and service excellence. 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.
In this article, we’ll share a dozen tips to help your practice provide a competitive level of customer service.
Providing outstanding customer service is essential in today’s competitive healthcare environment of decreasing reimbursement, increasing patient co-pays and deductibles, and greater patient expectations. You’ll want to be certain that service excellence is at the core of your practice–for your patients’ sake.
1. The Patient’s Perspective. You may be surprised at what someone can discern about your care philosophy, mission, and patient focus simply by walking through your clinic. To see things from your patients’ perspective, try walking in their shoes. Park in the patient parking lot or garage at midmorning. Is the parking convenient? Are the signs and directions easy to read and accurate?
Clinics located on a hospital campus or in a large medical complex need to be sure that directories are up to date and volunteers know you exist and where you’re located. You may want to ask an out-of-town guest to try to find your clinic. Is your location accessible and convenient?
Walk into the clinic at a particularly busy time; sit in the patient reception area early in the morning or at the end of a busy day. Are the seats in the reception area comfortable? Is the area neat and clean? Are forms and paperwork handled properly (HIPAA privacy compliance, etc.)? Evaluating your practice from the patient’s perspective can help you improve key aspects of your service.
2. On-going Training. Whether you train staff yourself or hire someone else to do it, provide every member of your staff with the information and the power to make patient-focused decisions. Make training sessions short, to the point, timely, and fun, and include customer service tips in every training experience.
Try the PRN medical-minute mini-huddle to highlight a customer service tip or to recognize top-notch service. When you observe a member of your staff demonstrating exceptional customer service, use the example to train others.
3. An Effective Telecommunications System. Call your office during regular hours and after hours to evaluate the telephone, voice mail, and answering service systems. Is the person who answers the phone responsive, helpful, and courteous? Do you feel welcomed? Is the voicemail message accurate and easy to understand? Does your answering service reflect your standard of caregiving? Once you know how the system is working, you can make adjustments to provide an improved level of service to your patients.
4. Patient Feedback. Many clinic directors and managers make “Friday phone calls” to solicit feedback from patients within a few weeks of an office visit. Take an hour one Friday a month to check in with patients, and share the results of these calls (unedited) during staff meetings. Include your patients in the practice’s advisory groups (such as the website review committee).
You can thank them with gift certificates to local vendors (movies, retail stores, restaurants, etc.). Be sure to provide refreshments during meetings. Your openness to patient insights demonstrates your commitment to patient caring—patient-centric means caring about the patient at the center of the care.
5. A Pleasant Office Environment. Ask staff to conduct “neat sweeps” periodically throughout the day in areas where patients and families gather. Tidying up and asking informally, “How’s your day going?” can create a more comfortable environment for patients.
6. Note and Correct Patient Inconvenience. If there are certain providers in your practice who are chronically late, ask them to communicate directly with the patient who is inconvenienced. Consider offering patients who are inconvenienced a small token of apology (a $5 gift certificate to the local coffee shop, for example). You may want to deduct the cost of these certificates from the provider’s compensation (behaviors can change quickly when they have an impact on their bottom line).
7. Parking Perks. Provide free parking validation or valet service once a day or once a week to patients selected at random. Senior leadership or the employee of the month can present the “prize.”
8. Keeping Promises. Reliability is essential. Instill trust in your patients by keeping the promises you make to them. Be ready for appointments when they’re scheduled. If you say you’ll return a call or send a report, be sure to do so. Think carefully before you make a promise—a broken promise is hard to fix.
9. Active Listening. Demonstrate your care and concern for patients by engaging in active listening. Listen without interrupting and by responding with nonverbal signs. When you listen with “one ear,” your patients can tell you’re distracted. Your patients deserve your undivided attention and you’ll earn their trust and respect when you give it.
10. Borrowing Best Practices. Customer service tips from other clinics, hospitals, or even from other types of service-oriented industries, such as restaurants and hotels, can be useful. What do you like about the service at your own doctor’s office? You can borrow ideas from other offices and shape them to suit your own clinic’s needs.
11. Exceeding Expectations. Providing exceptional customer service means exceeding patients’ expectations. If a patient asks how to fill out a form, take the time to answer her specific questions and to show her how to complete the paperwork. Wait to see if she has additional questions. People notice when an extra effort is made for them and they do tell others about it.
Whether it’s a coupon for a local coffee shop, additional information and resources about health and wellness or a genuine smile, people love to get more than they thought they were getting. A gesture doesn’t have to be large to be effective. For example, one pain management clinic provides a small custom-labeled bottle of water for the trip home (marketing and customer service in one)—a small, but much appreciated service.
12. Exceeding Patient Expectations
A little extra effort on the part of a clinic can save time and trouble for a patient as well as ensure that patient’s loyalty.
A patient at a rehab appointment realized he needed a copy of a return-to-work release form (R-33) from his doctor’s clinic before he could return to work that day. Unfortunately, the doctor’s clinic was 30 minutes in the wrong direction. The patient mentioned it to the therapist, realizing that the extra trip would make him an hour late to work. The therapist informed the patient that their electronic system was linked to the doctor’s office and with permission, could print a copy while the patient finished rehab. There was no cost on the part of the clinic and the patient had a new reason to refer friends to the clinic.
Excellence Every Day
Everything from the first referral call to the last clinic interaction— the office visit, pre- and post-procedure time, billing statements, financial arrangements— represents an opportunity to be your collective best as a clinic. Every member of your staff needs to bring positive energy and demonstrate a patient-focused attitude on the job every day.
In short, patient-focused practices strive to:
- Evaluate the clinic from the patient’s perspective
- Provide continuous staff training
- Refine telecommunications systems
- Solicit feedback from patients
- Maintain a pleasant office environment
- Note and correct patient inconvenience
- Provide parking perks
- Instill trust
- Sharpen listening skills
- Manage complaints tactfully
- Borrow smart practices from other clinics
- Exceed expectations
“We understand that providing great customer service is critical to success. This is especially true for our busy neurology practice.
We firmly believe that to accomplish this we must have a happy staff engaged in the mission. Before employees can excel in customer service, a culture that is open, responsive, and driven by a clearly articulated mission must be in place. Before embarking on a customer service initiative, make sure your staff is ready to carry out your expectations. Patients will reward you with their loyalty and will readily refer your group to their doctors, families, and friends.”
–Paul Louiselle, MA, CHE
Minnesota Epilepsy Group, P.A.
St. Paul, MN