What Are Patients Saying About You And Does It Matter?

A patient walks into a doctor’s office . . . While that may sound like the beginning of a comedy routine, it’s actually when patient first impressions are created.  Patients expect a great experience overall so the front desk, the nursing staff, the doctor, the facility, the billing department, even the parking lot – all contribute to a patient’s perspective of a practice.  But why does that matter?

More and more, patients are sharing their first impressions through online reviews.  With a few words and the choice of a number or star, those thoughts are multiplied and spread exponentially on the internet.  Whether right or wrong, human nature is persuaded by others, even if there is no supporting evidence.

Online patient reviews are growing in popularity and impact.  Not only are more patients going online to post about their experiences, but they are also using online feedback to inform their decisions about who will win their healthcare business.

In a 2014 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, two-thirds of Americans surveyed knew health reviews were available to them online.  About 25% of them used these sites for research. Of those who used the sites, 35% chose a doctor because of a rating.  The reverse was also true as 37% didn’t choose a doctor because of a bad rating.  And in some situations, patients will even choose an out-of-network doctor if that review is better than an in-network doctor’s.

Many surveys support these findings, reiterating that, now more than ever, patient reviews are increasingly impacting where patients go for care.  The shared feedback can be online through patient review sites like Google, Yelp, Vitals and Healthgrades.  Patients will also share their experience via word of mouth or on their personal social media in a recommendation.  No matter the method, it is in a doctor’s best interest to provide the best patient experience possible at all levels.

In addition, search engine optimization (SEO) experts agree that user-generated content like patient online reviews is heavily weighted by search engines.  In other words, reviews provide a first impression online when someone types a doctor’s name into the search field in Google or another search engine.

While positive online reviews can drive business, negative reviews can be tricky.  An occasional bad review is not a death sentence.  It can reveal human error or a possible bad day.  In fact, having a less than stellar review on occasion shows the doctor isn’t too good to be true and provides legitimacy to all reviews, even the good ones.

An unexpected bonus of a bad review can be an opportunity, at no charge, to learn about possible areas of improvement.  Sometimes improvement is as simple as a difference in perception – what a doctor thinks a patient is experiencing versus what the patient is actually experiencing.  With a few tweaks, problems can be solved and eventually averted, but this can’t happen unless the feedback is heard.

Furthermore, how a doctor reacts to a bad review is critical.  A prompt, calm, friendly response, respecting HIPAA privacy protocol, can make all the difference.  The majority of patients do not expect provider perfection, but provider honesty, transparency and interest in making things right.  In fact, most respondents feel it’s important for doctors to respond in some way to the bad review.  Silence can be viewed as possible wrongdoing or not caring.

Like never before, the success of a practice is at stake with patient reviews, good and bad, and how they are shared.  Every component of a doctor’s office should shine, inspiring a patient to post the best review and highest rating possible.  And while patient satisfaction is good for the bottom line, this should not be the only gauge for evaluating healthcare quality.  Patient satisfaction is just one component, but critical to the success of a practice.  Recognizing the importance of online patient reviews is the first step in creating a positive patient experience.  The next step is managing those reviews and finding the tools to do that.  Stay tuned for our follow up post addressing this.

Is Your Staff’s “Off” Day Costing You Money?

Being nice to people is SO easy.  It takes the same amount of time as being mean or indifferent.  Smiles are free.  Welcoming word choice is free.  Calming tone of voice is free.  So, why isn’t everyone nice to their customers?   The excuse we usually hear is that they were just having an “off” day.  Those “off” days are expensive!

Patients have choices.  If they don’t like you or your staff or your billing company, they will move on.  And, that’s the best case scenario…that they simply move on.  Oftentimes, they leave their mark…on Google, Yelp, and Facebook.  Bad reviews are hard to overcome.  Not to mention that prospective patients look at them!  According to one survey, a whopping 84% of patients consult a review website to view or post comments and ratings of healthcare staff.  Don’t let your “off” day end up on the internet….and not having it is the only way to guarantee that.

For us, here’s what it boils down to:  It is CHEAPER to keep your existing patients happy than spending the money to market to new patients.  Do you need to market sometimes?  Sure.  We wouldn’t be in business if you didn’t.  But, before marketing, look inward at your practice first.  There is no reason to spend time and money marketing only to have patients have a bad experience.  Get your practice to a place where you have spectacular customer service.  Then, market!

Let’s start with the first impressions of the practice.

First Impression

How does your team answer the phone?  This is usually the first interaction patients have with your office.  Your receptionist should be the “Director of First Impressions.”  Phones should be answered by a friendly, helpful person.  Don’t stick someone on phones that hates people or needs to polish their people skills.  Also, avoid automated answering systems when possible.  Here’s a detailed post on the topic: How Does Your Staff Answer the Phone?

When a patient, vendor, or anyone walks in the door of the practice, the person at the front window sets the tone for their experience.  They need to be friendly, make eye contact, and most importantly…SMILE!  It’s vital that they look at the patient/vendor, rather than at their computer screen.  If they are on a call when someone walks up, make eye contact, smile, and mouth, “I’ll be right with you.”  It’s not hard.  Yet, about 90% of front office staff we encounter leave a lot of room for improvement.

If working the front office is challenging for staff, rotate them through it.  Figure out why your staff isn’t being friendly and try to remove things you can control. Many times it starts at the top.  They will treat your patients the way you allow them to and will mimic how you treat patients.  So, if your staff isn’t nice to patients, consider if you may need to step up your customer service.

Keep the “window” open and please use restraint with signage at the windows, particularly ones that say “don’t tap on window.”  You would be surprised how many of these signs we see.  They can set the tone as well.  If you are having issues with cancellations, payments or labs, address it, but don’t put it all over your walls for every patient to see.  Figure out what you MUST say in writing, create discreet tasteful signage, or include it in the patient forms.

The front office needs to make all visitors feel welcome.  Checking them in, collecting payments, and all of their other duties should come second to this.  This isn’t exclusive to patients.  They should treat everyone that walks through your doors with kindness.

Clinical Staff

First Impressions don’t end with the front office.  Usually a medical assistant or nurse and maybe even a PA or NP sees the patient prior to the doctor.  This is another opportunity to make a good impression.  Listening, asking questions, and showing genuine interest in a patient’s concerns can make a big difference for that patient and make him or her feel like they are really matter.

It’s important that the staff look at the patient and not just at their computer.  Consider setting up the computer in a position where the staffer can sit beside the patient or even show the patient what they are entering.  Your clinical staff should not turn their back on the patient during their interaction.

If patients have a bad experience with staff, before ever seeing the doctor, they are already starting from a bad place.  Patients should feel like VIPs after their interactions with all staff.

Oftentimes “lab” is not part of your staff.  They should look and act like an extension of your practice.  Anyone working in your office is part of your team and has the ability to make an impression on your patients, good or bad.

How to Avoid “Off” Days

It starts with the physician setting the tone for the practice.  Lay out your expectations, live by them, and hold your team accountable to following them.

Don’t hire people that aren’t warm and fuzzy during the interview.  If you have team members that aren’t people people, find a non-patient interaction spot for them to work or help them find their next job.  Doctors work too hard to let one staff person ruin the patient experience.

Compliment and reward your staff.  Reinforce good behavior and praise them for it.  Tie a component of their compensation to patient satisfaction.  Make it a reasonable goal, as you can’t make all patients happy.  But, make it a stretch to get there.  That’s why it’s a goal and not a given.

Read your patient reviews online.  Consider those patients as unpaid consultants.  Some of their reviews are not valid but some are.  Look for recurring themes and FIX those things.

Listen to feedback from patients.  Address issues when you can and remove sources of patient frustration.  Do everything in your power to make patients comfortable in your practice.  And, don’t be afraid to dismiss disruptive patients.

Have your practice secret shopped.  You can hire someone like us to do it.  Or, simply use your family and friends to secret shop the practice.  Once you have the results, make an action plan and implement it.  The action plan should include staff training, maybe scripting, maybe role-playing, and most likely changing some processes in your practice.  We can help with any of these.  But, it’s best if it comes from inside the practice.  Let the staff brainstorm ways to fix the issues; this increases their ownership of the process.

Look at your attrition rates.  Do patients “ghost” you?  It’s going to happen sometimes for a normal reason – moves, insurance changes, etc.  But, if it’s happening a lot, is there something more to it?  Engaged patients don’t just bounce.  They tell you they are moving and will need records.

We’ll leave you with this.  It’s cheaper and easier to keep your existing patients happy than it is to get new patients.  Having “off” days not only stinks for the patient, but it kills your bottom line.  Go big or start small, but start making your practice patient-friendly TODAY.

Surprising and Delighting Your Patients with Excellent Customer Service

Always smile, say please and thank you, and you will have a patient forever, Right!  That could very well be the case, given you, your staff and the patient, view all matters and/or situations exactly the same.  What happens when there is a misunderstanding?

The Patient/Client/Customer is the Foundation of every practice,” as quoted to us in an excellent customer service workshop facilitated by SCORE at the Greater Irving Las Colinas Chamber of Commerce on September 1.

Customer Service can often times be compromised when we all get caught up in the day-to-day hustle of “getting the job done.”

  • Is a smile necessary?
  • Does the tone in your voice or your body language convey attitude?
  • Positive, upbeat, affirmations over the telephone and in the work place; does it work?

Yes, all of those practices work to ensure a successful experience.

“All the business savvy in the world won’t make you successful–your customers do that! Without new and repeated customers, there is no practice.

A smile, the tone of your voice, your body language and positive affirmations, all make a huge difference in the way a message or service is provided.  The workshop revealed there are six basic needs of customers:

  • They need to feel welcome … greet them;
  • They need to be understood … show understanding;
  • They need comfort … make them feel comfortable;
  • They need to feel important … make them feel important;
  • They need to feel in control … give them control; and
  • Understated needs … listen and find out what their needs are.

Greet them:  Always have someone at the front of your practice to greet patients, vendors and any other visitors.

Show understanding:  When a patient comes in and is confused or might have misunderstood something, please don’t get on the defense, really listen to what they are saying, paraphrase it back to them, so they know you understand them and that you are working to get it resolved.

Make them feel comfortable:  Please don’t rush your patients off of the telephone, out of the examining room or the waiting room.

Make them feel important:  Call your patients by their name.  Don’t rush them.  Set a goal to have telephones answered on the first ring, and certainly by the second during business hours. 

Give them control:  Whatever you do, don’t argue.  Work to resolve the matter.  Ask them what they would like for you to do and then proceed with doing it.

Listen and find out what their needs are:  Give them your undivided attention.  Don’t look at your computer screen or the paper’s on your desk.  Turn away from those things and make eye contact with them.  Please don’t zone out and start thinking of your next response.  Let them finish.

Customers complain for a variety of reasons, the most common is poor service, feeling ignored and constantly being made to wait to be served.

Most disgruntled patients can be won over again, with the proper follow-up technique and showing them that you will work to take care of a matter.

  • Again, ask the patient what they would like for you to do about a matter. If it can’t be resolve in that instant, be sure and let them know you will follow-up and call them the next day with the plan to resolve the issue.  Give specific times to make contact, and do what you say you are going to do.  But whatever you do, do not promise what you cannot deliver.

Commit to provide training for employees, so that they are comfortable performing at a high level and are better able to provide excellent customer service.  Provide and display your Vision and Mission Statement so that staff understand the goal of your practice.  You and your staff, can certainly surprise and delight your patients with excellent customer service by being positive and using phrases like: It is my pleasure to serve you; Please; What would make you happy, I would be happy to ….  By all means; lead by example.

How Does Your Staff Answer the Phone?

Have you ever called the main line at your office to see how it is answered? Are you placed on hold? Is your staff friendly? Can you understand what they say?

The voice on the other end of the phone is often a patient’s first interaction with your office. They start forming an opinion of the physician based on this experience. So, let’s make it a great one!  Use this list of “Dos” and “Don’ts” to improve the impression of your office.

-Answer the phone with the practice name, the person’s name, and “how may I help you?” Ex: “Dr. Baker’s office, this is Suzy.  How may I help you?”
-Speak slowly and clearly.
-Smile while on the phone. It sounds silly, but it works.  Put a mirror in front of staff answering phone so they can be sure they are smiling.
-Consider developing a phone script to help staff answer common questions.  The script could also include key words that alert staff that a call may be urgent.
-Develop a voicemail script and have each staff member create their own voicemail recording.  Return messages by the end of the day.
-Limit the amount of time callers are put on hold.  If they must be put on hold, add value to that time by educating them about your practice. See tips here.
-Call the office occasionally to ensure that staff is consistently answering appropriately.
-Encourage staff and compliment them for being friendly on the phone.

-Answer the phone with just the doctor’s name/clinic name.
-Greet the caller so quickly that they can’t understand what was said.
-Ever, ever answer the phone with “hold please.”  If a caller absolutely must be put on hold before finding out what they need, at least use the aforementioned greeting with “will you please hold?” in the place of “how may I help you?”
-Transfer a caller to voicemail without letting them know that the person they are calling for is unavailable. Ask if someone else could help them.
-Use an automated system if it can be avoided.  A friendly human being is always appreciated much more than a phone tree.

Answering the phone should be common sense. Be friendly. Speak clearly. Treat callers like their time and call are important.

Building a Physician Friendly Environment

We all know that our patients are our customers.  Sometimes I think that hospitals, surgery centers, imaging centers, etc. forget that physicians are also their customers. It is just as important to keep these “customers” happy.  Aside from the Emergency Department, every patient that walks through our doors, comes through a physician.  And, the ones that come through the Emergency Department wouldn’t show up if they didn’t think there would be a physician here to care for them (not to mention that many times their doctor sends them there).

So, what can healthcare delivery systems to to make themselves a better place for physicians to practice?  Eliminate the things that annoy, slow down, or inconvenience physicians that are legal and that they have control over.

Here are seven common annoyances that physicians confront on a daily basis:

  •       Waiting for lab and/or radiology results
  •       Searching for a patients nurse
  •       “Sitting out” or delays
  •       Finding nurse not current on patient status
  •       Hearing complaints from patients about hospital services failures
  •       Being “pestered” by HIM for a signature
  •       Having trouble getting on the surgery schedule

Source: The Coker Group 2005

With the exception of physicians having to sign charts, these are all controllable “annoyances.”  Not all of them are easy to control, but it is possible.  Do you have the ability to change one of these “annoyances in your facility?”  If you can, you are one step closer to being a more physician friendly environment.