Everything Communicates. There Are No Neutral Environments For A Patient.
The Bottom Line
Patients expect a battle for their rights and needs to be met in today’s primary care, family medicine and overall, our entire healthcare culture. It’s so easy to ruin your reputation in minutes by being another medical office known for delivering dreadful customer service. While Patients, like me, can be quite forgiving, there also comes a time when every Patient has ultimately had enough and leaves your practice. They’ll leave you in their wake and find what they need somewhere else. It’s not fair, but you and I know this to be all so accurately true. As author J.H., writes in his book ‘Know What You Are For’, he writes, “In order to ensure consistent growth, the goal of everyone in the organization should be to make the answers to ‘What do we want to be known FOR?’ and ‘What are we known FOR?’ match.”
This is the most important challenge for any Doctor in today’s inhospitable healthcare culture.
By Editor-in-Chief, Concierge Medicine Today, LLC.
Updated For 2023
There’s no such thing as an emotionless visit with a Patient.
Every Patient feels the vision you have for them and the care journey you intend FOR them the moment they: pick up a phone to make an appointment; walk in your door; navigate your social media; and walk into or out of your exam room or lobby.
If it is true that every Physician ends up somewhere in life wouldn’t it be great if at the end of your career you and your Patient(s) ended up somewhere you intended to be, on purpose?
Easier said than done, right?
Especially because of how difficult it is to be a Physician today.
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You see the topic of customer service (or lack thereof) and hospitality in healthcare is important to me because we see so many entrepreneurial Physicians who cast their clear vision of a preferred future over their entire patient panel and practice. Their vision for patient care is clear. They’ve trained their staff to serve Patients with kindness, patience and grace. From the interior design decision in the practice to the artwork choices on the wall. They understand that everything communicates!
In Concierge Medicine we see this as well. It’s unique in the healthcare delivery space as it is informing some of us (as Patients and Physicians) about how healthcare could be and should be for everybody. Now, not everyone understands it but it does provide both Physicians and Patients a standard of customer service, attention to detail and hospitality that I believe more medical practices should live up to.
To me, Concierge Medicine serves as a guide or, a north star.
As you know, I’m not a Physician. But, I am a Patient. Therefore, I know what it’s like to sit on the other side of you.
I know what it’s like to sit on the other side of the service window in your waiting room. I listen to the lack of priorities your staff chats about while I’m sitting with my daughter. Together we experience the frustratingly sad patient care journey that we’ve all unfortunately must succumb to in today’s overly complicated healthcare environment.
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Author Horst Schulze, CEO of the Capella Hotel Group and whom also inspired loyalty by raising the bar for customer service at The Ritz-Carlton says “Service starts the instant you make contact. The first 10 seconds are essentially important. Within 4 meters, 12 feet you recognize the guest and say, ‘Welcome!’”
The tension occurs between Patient and your medical staff (and you), when a Patient feels you (and your staff) are compromising on their generous expectations which they have for you to be on-time, courteous, friendly, cheerful and kind.
Patients recognize and respect that you are busy but also in the business of problem solving and ultimately, caring. It is even in the name ‘healthcare’ right?
So if ‘Caring’ is by definition what excellent service means … then what industry is not in the customer service space? Why is healthcare dented with dreadful stories of unkind, patient customer service stories?
There’s a number of reasons we could rattle off which might include: prior authorizations; third parties; to even the more recent role of Apology Laws in the Medical Malpractice space.
What can you as a leader, the Physician-CEO responsible for the preferred future of your Patients and actions of your staff do? Are your hands so tied because of a litany of environmental excuses beyond your control that you are paralyzed?
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I don’t think so. Why? Because I’m one Patient who is patiently still waiting to meet with you! In fact, I can’t wait until we meet again.
You see, as your Patient, I am forgiving, to a point.
As your Patient, if you and your team don’t deliver it (eg. Excellence) each and every time I visit your office, I have to make your life miserable. I’m sure you have patients that you know so well that hold your feet to the fire (metaphorically, of course) related to customer service or have strong opinions about your staff, behaviors they’ve encountered personally or even cleanliness of your office.
If you’re like most Physicians I know, you won’t compromise on what you think is best for your Patients.
Conversely, from my side of the exam room, I shouldn’t have to compromise the generous expectation, high performance and attention to detail I expect from my you and your team when I visit your practice only three or nine times per year.
Why are we making going to our Family Doctor, our Pediatrician or Primary Care Office less inviting than inviting a close friend into our living room for a conversation?
As a Patient, I’m of the belief that ‘Five words from my Doctor carry a lot of weight.’ And that five words from you mean more than 50 words about you.
Yes, I have generous expectations for my Patient-Physician visit because I understand that your insights, your education and the words you speak into my life have a persuasive influence on me that ripples into every other part of my life, my family and my work. Every patient, from every member of your team should come to expect and received every time they visit your practice the joy that you (and your team) have to serve people, a place of peace, patience and self-control (from your team) and particularly patience from their Doctor, your kindness, your time, gentleness and dare I say, a smile. 🙂
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I don’t expect perfection. As a loyal Patient however, I do expect progress. So when it comes to customer service and hospitality in our healthcare culture today I believe that every medical conference and staff will tell you that’s what they want to do better. But few actually do anything about it when they return to the office Monday morning.
If you are as frustrated as I am and you are one of the few Doctors that is still reading this, I think you can make progress in the area of improving patient relations and truly provide a great patient experience. Here’s three helpful ways you may want to consider that we think can help that we’ve seen in other practices, including Concierge Medicine.
Three Habits Of Great Patient Relations
1. Greet Everyone
A thoughtless, unemotional greeting from an administrative staff member should not be the first encounter a Patient receives when they walk through your door. Additionally, an empty, unattended desk or service window is unprofessional and inattentive to patient needs. Make it a must to greet all patients verbally and with a smile. Let’s recall what Schulze mentioned earlier “Service starts the instant you make contact. The first 10 seconds are essentially important. Within 4 meters, 12 feet you recognize the guest and say, ‘Welcome!’”
2. Stop Ignoring the People Patiently Waiting In Your Lobby
As a patient, we can see that you and your team are very busy. But so are we. Ask your next Patient about the process they had of scheduling their appointment. Did they have to take off work? How many stops are they fitting-in and errands do they have to make before they get back home today since they’re on this side of town? Did they have to arrange child care? Is there some place they have to be immediately after they leave your office? How difficult was it to get a date on the calendar that worked with yours and their schedule? When a Patient arrives and sits down after ‘checking-in’ they typically won’t ever tell you that they feel ignored and dismissed by your staff. In one case, one Patient we heard from, she called it ‘purgatory.’
So, we get it. You’re busy. And you would probably agree that most patients are very respectful your time. Dropping your head to the chart in your hands and quickly walking by uttering a few words to the nurse as you ignore the patients waiting makes every patient whom is patiently waiting ‘Feel like a number.’
And I know for a fact having worked, interviewed and sat kneecap to knee cap with Doctors for over 20 years about improving patient relations … that that’s not how you want them to feel whatsoever.
Next time you see a Patient or three waiting and sitting in the exam room, tell them one of your corny dad jokes or pop your head into the waiting room and talk with each of them about the weather and how you’re looking forward to catching up with them in just a few minutes.
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This might seem like a cursory attempt to be friendly, and there will always be Physicians you and I encounter that will dismiss these ideas as silly … but let me ask you two rhetorical questions. What are you known for? Second, what do you want to be known for?
Answer those two questions and align them with your leadership, staff culture and team values and you’ve created what every Doctor on the planet wants … the ‘word of mouth, new patient referral.’
3. Generic, Impersonal Emails Are Like The Three-Page, Stapled Christmas Letter. “I’m just not that interested in reading it.” So, Do Not Expect An Email Newsletter To Do Your Job For You. It Diminishes Your Hard-Earned Degree & Erodes My Trust In Your Expertise.
I use email everyday. It’s an invention we all love, use and loathe.
As a Patient, when I personally receive a generic email with a lot of links and generic health fact and educational excerpts about things like the cold and flu from my Doctor’s office … I unfortunately and mentally file this piece of literary work into the same category as the three page (with a staple!) standardized Christmas letter, mass-produced, of which we all receive from that one family during the holidays. lol.
Yes, I just typed lol in a healthcare trade publication article. Deal with it. 😉
We’ve all been there, right? The reality is you and I are probably not that invested in or interested in reading this piece of non-fiction prose from a person we haven’t seen in weeks, months or even years.
When it is potentially relevant to our local community health situation(s), sure, I might once-over it for a minute or three. Usually however, the content is not applicable, not specific enough, provides no clear action steps and I hate to say it, is a big waste of my time as your Patient when it’s got with information that let’s be honest … we can find anywhere on Google in a few seconds.
I know, that’s harsh. But, that’s both of our realities in today’s healthcare culture.
Like it or not, it’s not fair for either party, but it is true.
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So, if you expect a weekly email newsletter to do your job for you, to me, I feel you diminish your hard-earned degree and our trust in each other … and ultimately dismiss me as a Patient who is just as ignorant and unimportant as everyone else on your patient panel. And, I know for a fact, most Doctors do not feel that way.
All of this might sound a bit harsh but the data over the years about patient burnout and why patients leave their current Doctor to find a new one proves this out time and time again. And that is, the number one reason why a Patient leaves their Doctor is “I feel like a number.”
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So, get small, get personal. Then, as your Patient, I’ll demand you grow bigger because ‘Five words from you mean more to me than fifty words about you!’
I am your Patient. I see you, I believe in you and believe it or not, I want the best FOR you!
In summary, this all sounds pretty easy, doesn’t it. But come tomorrow morning when you’re met with the first delay or challenge it will be forgotten. I understand. But, for those in business models like Concierge Medicine, these are office culture routines that are at the forefront each day. They’re not perfect by any means, but no Patient expects perfect. What we need is progress on the front lines in medical offices today that doesn’t make the Patient feel ‘like a number.’
For medical offices struggling with confrontational staff, constant interruptions, the rude Patient, the squeaky wheel, those prior authorizations, a specialty referral hassle, etc., just try one of these ideas tomorrow and see what happens. What do you have to lose?
I know you can do this!
We see you, we believe in you and we are FOR you … we are FOR Doctors.
And as we say a lot around here … “It is no longer about being the best Doctor in the world anymore. It is simply about being the best Doctor FOR the world, FOR your Patients and FOR your local community.”
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DISCLAIMER AND USE: In no event is this information considered medical, legal, tax, financial, accounting or other professional advice (Please see full disclaimer below). This Podcast Is Subject to the Terms and Conditions of Use (https://conciergemedicinetoday.org/tcpp/) and is recorded/hosted by Concierge Medicine Today, LLC. Concierge Medicine Today, LLC., our representatives, agents or employees accept no responsibility or liability for direct, indirect, special, incidental or consequential damages or financial costs or claims made by the Physician(s) interviewed or our guests.