Getting Patients to Come Back: The “Make It Better.” Challenge — 3 Patient Relations Processes That Will Improve Member & Patient Subscriber Retention
By Michael Tetreault, Editor-in-Chief
It is often said, when you help change someone’s life, it changes yours. It’s one of the many reasons we are so committed to the mission we stated all those years ago … “Change the world, one doctor at a time.” To this day, we are incredibly grateful so many Physicians across the country share with us their stories. In the end, nearly every doctor comes to the same conclusion. Concierge Medicine is one of the best delivery vehicles that effects change in people’s lives. It is one [of a few] healthcare delivery mechanisms that when monetized, enables change that provides value to the lives physicians and makes people healthy by bringing old-fashioned values to our modern day culture. It is among one of the many other business vehicles like Direct Primary Care, retail healthcare, mobile medicine and mirco-clinics that are impacting our healthcare marketplace today. It is that change we see impacting so many people and growing at a steady [notice I didn’t say rapid] pace. It is why we do what we do. ~M. Tetreault, Atlanta, GA (August 12, 2016, Circa 2007)
For nearly the past 10-years, Concierge Medicine Today (CMT) has been writing, researching, advocating and telling the stories of hundreds of innovative physicians who have found meaningful fulfillment in their career. We’ve shared with you their personal stories and how they’ve been loved and supported by their local communities. We’ve worked with countless legislators, educated, advocated, researched, written and published bold industry-wide guidelines. We have been intentionally unafraid about addressing the inaccuracies and assumptions made by the media and informed an audience en masse across the country [and in 123 other countries …] about the advantages, challenges, disadvantages, cost, efficiencies, complexities and benefits of Concierge Medicine [and its recent variants] to patients and doctors.
We’ve also talked a lot about the common myths that have given Concierge Medicine a brand identity issue and currently conduct research and surveys with academia, hospitals and medical schools. We have turned our attention to other free market healthcare delivery models such as retail healthcare, Direct Primary Care and technology for an even greater perspective. Since that time as well, we have instructed and supported State and Federal lawmakers, assisted in several State and Federal legislative efforts that have changed, taught the principles of entrepreneurship to thousands of physicians, vision cast directly with physicians who have now become better versions of themselves by following their vision for healthcare delivery to the marketplace. We have helped patients become educated and reconnected to a doctor that values relationship and being healthy versus payment and just well, health. By the way, there is a big difference between “health vs. healthy.” We’ll talk about that more with one of our 2016 Concierge Medicine Assembly faculty members at a later date in the near future. 🙂
Our mission has never changed: Change the world, one doctor at a time.
Today, we’ve come across an old pair of shoes though. Not literally, figuratively, of course. It got us thinking. A lot of great ideas eventually become old shoes. Go with me here. I’m going to make a point. 🙂
You remember, that old pair of shoes in your closet that your mind instantly has a mental image of? Perhaps they are under a pile of clothes now or in a box or the garage. They used to look nice but today they have seen their day in the sun, literally. You do not use them because they are really not presentable anymore. If you wore them in public you’d feel awkward and strange looks would immediately arrive. [They rarely do, but you’d feel like all eyes are on your shoes.] However, no one ever mentions getting rid of them because they still have meaning, they still have life and one day you know you are going to need them. They have in essence become a permanent, “special” part of your life.
While talking to about a half-dozen physicians recently, we have come across a problem that is a lot like that old pair of shoes. Over the past few months, we noticed a few Concierge Medicine physicians were concerned about decreasing membership inside their practice. A small but slowly growing number of people who were subscribing patients were not following through with their renewal reminders.
One of the core values and missional principles here at CMT, inside our sister publication(s) and at our mentoring/coaching arm of CMT, The DocPreneur Institute, is the importance of “Make It Better.” We always want physicians to improve organizationally and relationally. So, we decided to issue an experiment which eventually became a challenge internally on the process of how people engage with their doctor, better.
What do “wins” look like in
“I realize now … [nearly a year after the transition], that patients like the added-value services my practice and membership offers. But conversation after conversation, I’m also learning that if I were to remove that layer from my membership offering that they would stay because they want me. It was my “ah-ha” moment. The realization that [to be cliche], “they like me, they really like me!” I’ve learned that “I” have value in the hearts and hands of my patients. I’ve made things better.” ~Dr. L. Osteopathic Physician, August 2016
- Patients inside Concierge Medicine win if every person has an easy and fast way to ask questions and take the next best step that is right for them.
- Patients win when the program(s) you offer are clearly written on your web site. That means that the terminology is at the appropriate reading level for the demographic most common in your 3-7 mile local community.
The average reading level among Americans is between 7 th and 8 th grade. To address the literacy level specific to conferring health information, HealthPartners [for example] has adopted a target reading level of 5 th to 7 th grade for its patient communications, as recommended by several organizations, including the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, the Minnesota Health Literacy Partnership, America’s Health Insurance Plans: Health Literacy Task Force, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. To determine whether our written communication materials meet this reading level range, Patient Education uses an evaluative process that includes electronic reading indices (available online and through various word -processing platforms) as well as reviews by health literacy experts and plan member and patient partners. (Source: https://www.healthpartners.com/ucm/groups/public/@hp/@public/documents/documents/entry_184562.pdf)
- Patents win when they can understand and digest concepts and ideas in pieces. Meaning, create a comfortable physical space in your office environment for these conversations to occur and allow dialogue to naturally flow in the right direction.
“I always wanted my medical practice to be an extension of my life at home. I turned my waiting area and lobby into more of a living room with a couch and nice chairs. I believe that makes a big difference in Concierge Medicine. I believe it makes a big difference to my patients. It’s not much but it matters. It’s not even that I’m trying to be Concierge Medicine. I’m just trying to do better than before. We’ve got to step-it-up. We’re business people for &^%$# sake. In fact, I wish more doctors in traditional medicine would do better or just do more than magazines and chairs. It’s ridiculous. What a pleasant place the doctors office would be if the office was a place even doctors wanted to visit? Anyway, I have an office for research and writing. My diplomas are in there … I should really put them out in the hallway. I have a living room environment and my staff and I have made our kitchen an open place for our patients too. They can get coffee, eat a piece of fruit from our table or whatever. What I find interesting is I have more meaningful conversations with patients in the living room environment sitting in our nice chairs and standing in our kitchen environment at our practice than I do our exam rooms. Something switches from the exam room to the living room or the hallway to the kitchen. We talk about their kids, their family, their vacation, work and I’m able to catch up on their lives. That is how I always wanted my practice to be. It wasn’t intentional to open up those area to our patient public, we just did. I find that my patients identify more with the idea of Concierge Medicine in those environments. It is amazing and I love going to work on Monday mornings now because of it.” ~Dr. E, Family Physician, Texas
- Patients win everyday when you have the right people [i.e. the doctor] in the right environment who is smiling, warm and friendly and who can help a patient determine their next best step.
- Patients win everyday when staff never look at or use their smart phone.
- Patients win everyday when staff are smiling, sincere, helpful, know great directions to the best lunch or dinner spots around your practice [if in the event a visit goes much longer than expected].
- Patients win when their physician never uses their smart phone in the presence or sight of their Concierge Medicine patients.
- Patients win when their physician can provide brief, to the point recommendations about the use of vitamins and supplements without using Google and/or looking at their smart phone.
A Follow-Up Win
- Hand-written thank you notes or blank personal stationary mailed directly to your patients home address matter. Saying congratulations on a new job, telling someone happy birthday or remembering “the last day of chemo-anniversary” means the world to people. What is the old cliche? “People don’t care how much you know … until they know how much you care.”
- Have a solid follow-up system. Your next e-mail newsletter, Chamber of Commerce meeting or chance encounter with a former patient doesn’t mean anything without follow-up. What does the NEXT conversation between the person and the doctor’s office sound like? What is the goal of the NEXT conversation? How do you track everything that happens after that NEXT conversation? All of these questions and more make up your unique follow-up system.
- You have a “follow-up win” when you make your NEXT conversation your best conversation. And after that conversation, the NEXT one gets even better and better and better. You become more comfortable about your practice, your services and your overall value. When you feel you are worth something as a physician, hearing someone say “No, thank you. It’s just not the right time …” won’t hurt nearly as much.
The Ultimate Win
- Physicians win if a person takes his or her next best step. The Everyday Win and the Follow-Up Win should both lead to the individual taking a step. If a step is not taken, you must evaluate what is going wrong. Where is the breakdown in the process?
In conclusion, what can you do about that old pair of shoes to make them new again? What old idea have you had that could be taken off the shelf, dusted off and made new again? What practice process or old space inside your office needs a do over? What one thing this week can you dissect your entire idea and “Make It Better” again?
We recently had someone share something from the food service industry that we thought was unique and would be very helpful to our CMT readers. I hope they are helpful for you.
3 Customer Service Phrases To Avoid:
- “That sucks.” Any sort of customer interaction that includes “sucks to be you” should be avoided.
- “To be honest with you…” Don’t use this phrase because it makes a subtle implication that you’re being honest but only “right now.”
- “If I recall correctly…” Don’t guess for a customer. Simply state that you’re going to find out the exact answer they need, and do just that.