Customer service training: Most medical conference and CME courses aren’t doing enough to address it.

Healthcare and hospitality. Why is it that these two words elicit an insurmountable tidal wave of untreated anger and contempt by medical practices across the U.S. towards this idea, this seemingly simple notion that ‘being nice’ to a Patient when they walk in the door is possible?

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By Michael Tetreault, Editor-in-Chief, Concierge Medicine Today

I read recently that people on average feel about 35 emotions an hour.

That tracks, right? Yeah, it totally makes sense.

When two worlds [or words] collide … healthcare and hospitality or, customer service and patient relations — why is it that there’s a cataclysmic, volcanic eruption of resentment, contempt and anger that occurs in most medical practices and healthcare environments? It’s like we’ve ‘crossed the streams’ [Ghostbusters reference if you didn’t catch it] and there is this unspoken operational narrative among administrative staff behind the barrier labeled the service window [apparently for HIPAA and our safety, right?!] and many too busy to care office managers at-work today that resent the Patient for having the stones to simple show up and expect an ounce of respect and kindness from their local medical team.

So, healthcare and hospitality. Customer service and patient relations.

Why is it these words elicit an insurmountable tidal wave of untreated anger and contempt by medical practices across the U.S.?

Is the seemingly simple notion of ‘being nice’ to a Patient when they walk in the door too much responsibility to muster?

Well, there’s an answer for that. However, most medical conference and CME courses aren’t doing enough to address it.

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Concierge medicine, while at its core, attempts to strengthen the patient-physician relationship. It’s not perfect by any means, but it does carry most of the healthcare communities weight related to informing us about how healthcare could be and should be delivered.

I was recently talking to an Office Manager who works at a medical practice. When he went himself to a recent appointment he said it was as if he (ie. the Patient) was the ‘scum of the earth.’

“That’s how I felt,” he said.

His words, not mine.

“I was held in contempt just for showing up by rudest front office staff you’ve ever seen.”

To make matters worse, once he finally did see the Doctor, it felt rushed, formulaic and the entire visit took less than 5-minutes!

Some would argue on behalf of the Physician citing bureaucracy, a failing business model or even poor time management related to schedule.

At the end of the visit though, this dermatologist lost a Patient.

That’s right. Never again would this Patient, who happens to work in another medical environment as well — ever come back.

Therein lies the problem.

Who cares?

I think we should all be asking however, who should care?

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What is often misunderstood by most administrative employees and Physicians alike which we bump into, (with some exceptions, of course) is that hospitality is also about a feeling you get.

It is a feeling. It is an emotion.

Going to the Doctor’s office is an emotional thing for people.

“I drove across town, took the morning off of work and found childcare for our two kids for a 5-minute visit with the Doctor,” says the Office Manager we spoke to. “On top of that I was held in contempt by the staff for just showing up and giving them my business? That’s absurd. And, as someone who knows medical billing codes myself, I also noticed the Doctor billed me for a 30-minute visit when I was in front of her for less than five.”

The Cambridge Dictionary defines Hospitality as “the act of being friendly and welcoming to guests and visitors.”

Where does that leave us? What can you do?

Well, perhaps, like this Office Manager discovered … he found out what it was like on the other side of the service window for once. He found out where the tension points started and finished in the patient journey. And, he learned that there were a lot of tension points.

You see being a Patient and providing hospitality in healthcare isn’t just about finally arriving and sitting down in the lobby or finally getting to talk to the Doctor. No. It’s about the journey.

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That seems pithy when we hear all the time phrases like, ‘life is about the journey.’

I hate those cheesy statements as well.

But it is true that Patients whom in their own words feel “like a number …”, “feel distracted …”, “feel ugly …”, “feel a bother …”, or even “I feel like I’m an interruption to the Doctor.”

Dr. Robert Pearl in chapter 5 of his book Uncaring even highlights the topic of the importance of customer services and hospitality in healthcare.

“Doctors are taught how to cure people,” notes Pearl. “But they don’t always know how to care for them.”

Here’s one thought to consider. At the end of the day a patient comes back to your practice for a feeling. Not an answer to an unanswerable problem. Not a solution to a riddle that you and I both know takes time to solve. And, certainly, you know they’re not just coming to see you for a prescription.

They also leave with a feeling too.

What feeling are your patients leaving with? What story are they now going to share with others?

Jeff Henderson, author of Know What You Are For, says … “The reason 74% of customers don’t care if brands disappear is because they don’t think brands care about them.”

In concierge medicine there are a lot of things we’re learning about how the great Doctors of today are incorporating hospitality elements into their own private practice healthcare environments. We thought we’d share a few. So, here are our top 10 hospitality pro tips we hope will help you create a more hospitable environment for your patients. 

Hint: Please notice how we use the word ‘feel’ … in every tip! Because hospitality in healthcare is about a feeling, an emotion, not just a prescription!

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    A person who is friendly, attentive and known by the Patients should be the one who answers the telephone within 3 Rings. It makes the Patient feel … like your attentive to their needs.

  2. Always acknowledge the Patients in your waiting room, even if it interrupts what you’re doing. It makes them ‘feel’ like they’re not a number.
  3. Ensure all areas that are seen or within view of the Patient are immaculate. No exceptions. Staff and leadership at your practice must on a daily basis recognize that everything in your practice communicates … something. Particularly, a messy, disorganized or rude front office staff says something about the organization and management and even behavior of the Physician that day and his/her competence. Meaning, if the bathroom floor or front office desk is dirty or in disarray, it makes the Patient ‘Feel’ as if the Doctor may be disorganized or unsanitary and like the front desk, this visit and my care is going to be a real &#^$-show.
  4. Move the routine, mundane appointment follow up calls to a private place in the office where visiting/waiting Patients won’t be distracted or hear these phone calls. Hint: Hearing these calls makes current Patients feel like a number. 
  5. Be respectful of the Patients time. It makes them ‘feel’ like you respect them as much as they respect you.
  6. Always be available and remember the suggested hours are guidelines, not limitations, for satisfying patient needs. Otherwise, you make them ‘feel’ like they’re just a number.
  7. Any time you approach anything in your visit with the Patient, especially something that directly impacts the Patient having to do something or not permitted to do something – from your office mentality of “it’s better for us internally,” you’re communicating a feeling of something negative to the Patient.
  8. Attire and personal image are appropriate. Your words have weight, so does what you wear. Don’t let the Patient be distracted by how casual you dress. They may just feel like your laissez faire in your medical knowledge as well.
  9. Author Jason Young, an author who writes about hospitality in church environments notes (and we’ve changed some of the words to be applicable for healthcare …) “Too often, we think we’re designing an experience for a guest [eg. Patient], but what we’re really designing it for ourselves. We’re designing it for regular [eg. familiar] People like us. Or worse, we are trying to create an experience for everyone, which means we create an experience for no one.”
  10. Most people [eg. Patients] don’t want to deal with a gauntlet of staff before they find the safety of their seat in your exam room. The structures and design of your practice which you created might be the very thing adding difficulty of their care journey. Help make the feeling of going to see their doctor, like that of going to see a friend in their own home.

There’s more about hospitality, customer service and the patient experience that concierge medicine is sharing and showing the healthcare community at-large. If you’d like to learn more about these topics and more, we recommend you attend the industry’s annual conference in Atlanta, GA each year hosted by Concierge Medicine Today called the Concierge Medicine Forum.

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