Because it’s such a necessary part of our lives, health care is often overlooked as being primarily a service business. In fact, health care, like other service industries including spas and restaurants, must compete for our money – even if it’s insurance money – which means the customer should come first.
This fact gets muddied however, when customers generally have no choice whether they must seek care, putting medical offices in a position of power they can wield over patients. If you’ve ever waited an hour for an appointment or been brushed off the phone by impatient front office staff, you’ll know exactly what we mean. And as more patients pay out of pocket due to high-deductible plans, they’ll begin to be more picky about the patient experience and where they spend their money.
So how can doctors’ offices take cues from other service industries to provide not only just great care, but also a memorable patient experience?
Here’s a few ideas borrowed from my favorite spas and salons.
1. Have a greeter
How great would it be to walk into a doctor’s office and have someone acknowledge your presence? Rather than waiting for the person behind the counter to look up or get off the phone, there’s someone waiting for you when you enter the office. This greeter would take your name and the reason for your visit, and then direct you where you need to go.
Do you have an insurance question? The greeter will point you to the billing person. Are you a new patient wondering if the office received your online paperwork? The greeter will get the attention of the right person and ask, or better yet, have a tablet she can use to look up that information for you.
Even more mundane information, like how long the wait will be, or where the bathrooms are would be appreciated.
Having a liaison in the office that’s dedicated just to patient relations and can find you answers and information quickly would be worth its weight in copays.
2. Train front office staff to treat patients like customers and not nuisances
It’s not uncommon to feel like you are bothering the front desk person for questions. Although a greeter would help in this area, patients still interact with the front office on visits and on the phone. When setting up appointments, staff could provide detailed information related to what patients can expect and the timelines associated. Explanations for any delays would be given, and patients would be thanked for their business. Medical office staff get busy, there’s no denying it, but if they approached the patient with an attitude of “How can I help you?” rather than “Why are you bugging me?” it would go a long way.
Like we said, health care is a customer service business, and the customer is number one – or should be in most cases. Creating a culture of customer service starts with staff training.
3. Add creature comforts
Many waiting rooms are silent places full of nervous or impatient people. Health care offices that create a space to diffuse some of this energy would be wonderful. Think nicely designed spaces where water, at a minimum, maybe even coffee was available. Recent magazines that appeal to a variety of tastes and wireless access would also go a long way in making the wait bearable.
Inside the exam room, doctors would do right by the patient to think of where coats could be hung or purses and bags could be stored. That might sound silly, but I often have no idea where I am supposed to put this stuff when I’m asked to re-dress in a gurney gown.
4. Utilize online and social media channels
Many doctors’ offices have wonderful websites – many don’t. Offices that make their websites one-stop destinations for health information, forms, practice details, online scheduling, and on-site chat with a real, live person, would make excellent use of the online channel and probably also reduce the number of phone calls coming into the office.
Besides the logistical value the website could provide, it could also be a great resource for information. More than 85 percent of people search online for health information. Why not provide content for the topics and questions your patients ask about the most? After all, you’re already a trusted source of information and the credibility is established.
Using Facebook to provide practice information would be a great way for patients to connect with your practice through social channels. Facebook also allows patients to develop a more personal relationship with the practice.
5. Follow up with “how can we do better?”
If patients are given a brief survey after leaving their appointments, they can have the chance to weigh in on issues that they otherwise would have kept to themselves.
Some medical offices will never know why patients leave their practice, but wouldn’t it be nice if that information could be obtained, and something could be done about it?
If a patient is given the message that the practice cares what he thinks, and wants to improve the patient experience next time, the patient is more likely to stick around.
Service providers are under a lot of pressure these days, but giving good service is no longer a nice-to-have, it’s a business mandate.
What would you like to see doctors’ offices do better?