Patients now have more options than ever when it comes to choosing a physician. In this regard, medical practices have become more like other types of businesses than ever before.
If a patient has a negative experience while in your office, even if it has nothing to do with treatment, that patient may very well seek out another practice. At the very least, you can be sure that patient will let other people know about that experience, whether by word of mouth or on an online review site. In that regard, customer service is really a critical part of branding for your practice.
For that reason, it’s important to treat your patients as though they are customers. Yes, they need the services you provide, but unless your practice is located in a very small town, it probably wasn’t the only option for your patients. However, if their experience is very positive and they feel a sense of hospitality every time they come in for a visit, they will more than likely turn into loyal patients. Plus, happy patients are much more willing to sing your praises to others, which can be a big boost for your practice’s reputation and keep new patients coming through the door.
Try these tips to improve customer service at your practice.
1. Keep a clean, inviting waiting room.
The waiting room is one of the first things your patients see when they walk into your practice. And, depending on whether or not you’re running on schedule, patients may need to spend a considerable amount of time there. A cluttered, cold waiting room could certainly be a turn-off, as could a waiting room full of chairs with torn cushions and dusty fixtures. These types of things signal to patients that your practice won’t pay attention to the details regarding their health, even if that isn’t the case. First impressions are everything–do you think your waiting room is giving the right impression?
2. Customer service starts with your front desk staff.
The first thing patients will see when they walk in is your waiting area, and the first person they will talk to will be someone at your front desk. Some patients might be willing to overlook your waiting room if the rest of the experience is great, but they won’t be as willing to overlook a rude front desk attendant. It’s important that every patient is greeted with a smile and a positive attitude. If your front desk staff looks miserable all of the time, your patients will pick up on that. Picture walking into any other business–a restaurant, a retail store, a repair shop–would you want to be greeted with a frown, or be helped by someone who looks like they have no interest in helping you? Probably not. Patients shouldn’t have that experience at your practice, either.
3. Be honest about wait times.
Emergencies happen; most patients understand that. However, they will be considerably less understanding if you keep them waiting much longer than expected with no explanation. If you are running behind schedule, let patients know as soon as you know. Some may not be able to wait that long, and you need to respect their time. Do your best to accommodate patients that need to reschedule, and do your best to keep them in the loop in the meantime.
4. Listen to your patients’ concerns.
This should go without saying, but it’s common to see patient reviews in which the patient states that it felt like no one really listened to his or her concerns during the appointment. Everyone in your office should make an effort to really listen to the patient and address every concern they may have. Do not be dismissive, even if you think the question or concern is silly. Remember that patients are coming to you for help, and they may be scared or concerned about what will happen. Taking the time to fully listen and respond can mean a lot to your patients during those times.
5. Go the extra mile.
The items above should be the bare minimum of the patient’s customer service experience at your practice. However, if you really want to stand out from other practices (and you should!), you need to go above and beyond the minimum standard of customer service. Offer beverages to patients in the waiting room. Make take-home items for patients with your practice information, such as magnets, pens, notepads, or small bottles of hand sanitizer. If your practice treats children, you might also consider giving out stickers or candy. Many young patients are terrified of going to the doctor, and while that little reward may not always alleviate those fears, it can certainly help.
Give patients options on how to contact you–over the phone, via email, or via a contact form on your website. You can also add your check-in forms to your website so patients can print them out and arrive with them already filled out. If your practice uses an EHR system, you may be able to accomplish some of these things through that system. However, you should also make sure that all of your employees are familiar with your website and EHR so that they can help patients out with finding what they need.
6. Conduct regular surveys to see how you are doing.
Part of good customer service is regularly checking in to see where you can improve. You may think you are doing well, but you will never know for sure if you don’t ask. Ask your patients to fill out a survey after their appointments. You can send the survey by mail, email, or even offer it at checkout time. Remember to review the results objectively–the results could reveal problems that you weren’t aware of.
In most cases, there will be other practices in your area that provide the same services you provide. Ultimately, what sets you apart from those other practices is the people you employ. If the entire staff from the doctors all the way down to the front desk attendants can make patients feel as comfortable as possible during the visit, patients will really appreciate it. Remember, patients are seeing you because they have a health problem–showing kindness and understanding during what is often an unpleasant experience can mean a lot to your patients.