Archive for February, 2010
Last post we talked about Patient Loyalty and growing it through excellence in Customer Service. Being empathetic is another way for medical practices to encourage Patient Loyalty. Empathy- the identification with and understanding of another person’s feelings or situation – is a natural part of caregiving, and one of the best ways medical practice staff can help patients feel comfortable in what are often uncomfortable situations.
Practicing empathy means putting yourself in the patient’s shoes. Wouldn’t you like to feel that the people who are taking care of you, seeing you at possibly your most vulnerable, understand what you’re going through? Interactions in a medical situation can easily swing more to a coldly clinical, rather than warmly human, level. Remember to bring humanity to the fore during your exchanges with patients. Sometimes, what we say makes an even bigger impression than what we do.
It can be as easy as introducing yourself when you see a patient for the first time, then following with a reassuring statement or explanation:
“Hi, my name is Ann. I’ll be doing the ultrasound of your leg today that Dr. Jones ordered. Here’s what we’re going to be doing…”
Then close the interaction on a human level:
“Thanks, Mr. Smith, for your patience and cooperation. I know sometimes these things can be uncomfortable. Your test results will be ready tomorrow. In the meantime, are there any questions you’d like to ask? I’ll be happy to help.”
The flip side of empathy occurs when we forget the power of words and inadvertently create difficult situations, such as:
1. Delays – patients wait too long in reception with no explanation or apology
2. Financial issues – patients are confused about bills, particularly the non-insurance portion, and receive abrupt or little assistance
3. General Confusion – maybe the patient isn’t sure they’re in the right place, or where they’re supposed to go or what to do next, signage or verbal directions aren’t clear
4. Anger and Fear – patients are having a procedure that they don’t fully understand, and are fearful either of the procedure or of the outcome
In each situation, medical practice staff is in the position of first responder. Think about those possible responses carefully – what would be most likely to diffuse a situation? What would be most likely to exacerbate it?
Next time, we’ll give you some alternate responses to the usual, less empathetic ones that often lead down a negative path, away from Patient Loyalty.
“The greatest gift of human beings is that we have the power of empathy.” — Meryl Streep
After the last post, we realized there was tons of information we could share about good customer (patient) service. Medical practices need to provide an excellent patient experience and there are a few simple cues that can help you initiate the right conversations about the right things with the right people. Watch and interpret patient body language to anticipate their needs. Here’s a sample scenario:
A patient’s facial expression shows confusion as she approaches the front desk, bill in-hand. Rather than waiting for her to initiate the conversation, be proactive, say something like: “Mrs. Smith how are you today? Is there a question about your bill that I can help you with or would you prefer that I get someone from Billing to assist you?”
Such an effortless gesture goes a long way toward creating an atmosphere of caring and concern. It’s so easy to let things go the other way and start off on the wrong foot, instead. Think about it – we’ve all been in medical practices where you approach the reception desk to check in, only to be either ignored or thrown a quick “I’ll be with you in just a moment” while we wait for the employee to finish filing or chatting with a co-worker. Courtesy is more important than efficiency – staff should never be too busy to help a patient.
Take the patient’s point of view. They judge the medical practice’s quality based on their perceptions of the overall experience. If the medical visit begins with them feeling discounted, that carries through the appointment. Even excellent physician “bedside manner” can’t overcome the initial negative impression from reception.
So, remember to focus on things that correlate with the overall satisfaction that builds loyalty. For instance, how’s your staff’s attitude? Are they cheerful and empathetic? Are you (and they) actively soliciting the needs of patients? Do you take the time to say something to the patient that shows your concern for their privacy or well-being that’s maybe not directly related to the reason for the medical visit?
Just because you don’t hear a lot of complaints doesn’t mean there aren’t negative experiences. Only 4 out of 100 dissatisfied customers complain (according to the Technical Assistance Research Program), instead, they punish your practice through negative word of mouth. So focus on providing a positive, proactive patient service instead!
Next time: empathy and diffusing anger.
“Isn’t it really ‘customer helping’ rather than customer service? And wouldn’t you deliver better service if you thought of it that way?” — Jeffrey Gitomer, Author
One of our favorite projects last year involved a medical practice client who wanted to reach a higher standard in customer service, originally going for the “Gold Standard.” They knew it would be a great differentiator from the competition. So, we started by educating the client that it would mean building customer loyalty through Referrals, Repeat Business, Retention and enhanced Reputation. They were so energized by the realization of what it could mean for their business, their patients and their staff that they changed their original goal of Gold Standard to Platinum Standard!
It takes more than quality core services to create loyal customers; it takes quality customer service, which in a specialty medical practice, includes all the interactions the patient has with the organization – from reception to the billing office and everything in between.
One single event can determine an overall impression. Patients compare their expectations of what will happen to what they perceive has happened. If the experience meets their expectations, they will likely feel “Neutral.” Now that’s not bad, but it’s “Average.” Not a great lead-in to loyalty.
If the experience exceeds the patient’s expectations, they are likely to feel pleased or even “Wowed,” which is what you want them to feel – because that emotion leads to patient loyalty. (Of course, if the experience falls below expectations, your expectation can be that they’ll find a healthcare alternative.)
A major complaint patients have of their healthcare organization is the “lack of respect that is conveyed to them” that can lead them to sensing you think they are not as good as you are. Here are some examples of discounting:
- Being impatient
- Being insensitive to cultural and generational differences
- Using jargon or medical terminology
- Forgetting to follow through on something you promised
- Not being willing or able to consider the situation from another person’s perspective
- Interrupting the patient during an explanation or question
Achieving great customer (or patient) service isn’t rocket science, but it does take commitment and often, correction in current practices. What changes will you make in your medical practice to be sure your patients receive Platinum Level Service?
“A customer is the most important visitor on our premises; he is not dependent on us. We are dependent on him. He is not an interruption in our work. He is the purpose of it. He is not an outsider in our business. He is part of it. We are not doing him a favor by serving him. He is doing us a favor by giving us an opportunity to do so. “ —- Anonymous
As our first entry as cyber-publishers, content runs long – fair warning. Whether you subscribe or just check in occasionally, we (Barbara Derry and Crystal Nolan) hope you gain compelling insight and tips about the “healthcare delivery business” that our medical practice consulting firm supports. That, after all, is our business.
But the other side to this blog is about being true to yourself, taking risks, venturing into the unknown – all the “big gulp” things we did to leap into medical practice consulting from secure, well-paying yet personally frustrating positions as healthcare administrators. We’ll share successes and setbacks, anecdotes and opinions – all aimed at helping current and potential medical practice clients, as well as budding entrepreneurs!
We began as employees of a large Pacific Northwest integrated healthcare system. We met ten years ago, ultimately collaborating on the opening of a 24,000sf medical office building and ambulatory surgery center (brought in on-time and under budget, btw). But we were disillusioned with corporate red tape and inflexibility, and eventually took a deep breath and jumped ship, forming Derry, Nolan & Associates, LLC.
Our first day as medical practice consultants coincided with the day President Bush announced the war on Iraq – not the most auspicious of beginnings. Despite that alarming herald, we were convinced that healthcare consulting, specifically for medical practices, would benefit from our experience in cost reduction, reimbursement and workplace efficiency improvement.
Personal Goals & Professional Growth
Our goals remain consistent: personally, to earn good income while gaining creative outlets missing in corporate structure, and professionally, to help healthcare related businesses and medical practices thrive. Sure, there are risks. Strangely enough, personal health issues catapulted us into business ownership and taking the associated financial risks. Our overcoming scary, and in Crystal’s case, life threatening, health events strengthened us in the face of adversity.
Nearly seven years later, we have no regrets. In fact, two-year income goals were met the first year! Today, we boast a client list that extends from major integrated healthcare systems with thousands of employees, to ambulatory surgery centers and rural health clinics with one provider and a handful of dedicated staff.
Our Hope for Healthcare
We’re optimistic about looming healthcare reform, hopeful for a time of less fragmented medicine (thanks to technology), of medical practices and healthcare systems that run more efficiently thanks to eliminating waste, when Gold Standard customer (patient) service is the norm, and when all citizens receive quality healthcare.
In our blog, we want to make you smile, think, discuss and laugh outright. Above all, we want you to know that all things are possible and never to settle for less than your full potential. We’ll share snippets – healthcare related and otherwise – enjoy and join us on our journey!