Though not cost effective, many medical practices waste precious funds continuously marketing to new patients or referring physicians rather than “spreading the love” amongst their already loyal following and keeping them happy. So, how can you go above and beyond in your practice to help retain the patients you already have?
The Dreaded Medical Practice Stereotype
Think about it. If we’re honest, the vast majority of patients dread visiting their doctor for an appointment. The stereotypical doctor’s office can leave a patient feeling uncomfortable and uneasy before, during, and even after their appointment. And why is this?
Unfortunately, most patients expect to be met with a cold, icy atmosphere when they enter a medical office, donned with uncomfortable seats in which they have to wait for far too long. They most likely believe that they will have little to no privacy, and the entire staff will be condescending and almost robotic while shuffling them through the office, as if they are simply just another number on the roll call.
But what would happen if that stigma about your practice could be changed? What if your office could present an overwhelming pleasant experience for all your patients, which kept them coming back again and again? Not only meeting, but exceeding, a patient’s expectations is the best way to keep your patients happy and returning to your practice.
Your Patient Expects…
So, what is the bare minimum that a patient expects? Upon entering your practice, patients assume many things can (and will) happen. Patients expect:
- their basic medical needs to be met
- a clean reception area
- insight (and treatment options) about their condition from their doctor.
Did you notice that we didn’t say a friendly greeting or warm, engaging staff members? Most patients don’t expect this because they haven’t experience it in the past. All it takes is a simple touch to show that your office has gone the extra mile to create a positive atmosphere for your patients. A small added bonus to top off your patients’ met expectations can turn an “adequate” visit a “memorable” one!
What Does “Going the Extra Mile” Look Like?
The great news is that going the extra mile doesn’t have to cost tons of time, effort, or staff involvement. It merely takes the implementation of a few simple office tweaks that will make a lasting impression on your patients.
Let me give you a real world example. At our medical center, Ultrasound Dimensions, a patient of ours, Roisin, wrote an article for The Irish Times which recalled her first ultrasound visit after discovering that she was pregnant.
It’s no surprise that most first-time mothers tend to be a little anxious for their first ultrasound; however, Ingle gave an entirely different account of what her experience was like. Rather than the high medical accolades and professional staff that the clinic boasted, Ingle raved over the little things that made her feel right at home.
She remembered the simple little touches of the office, such as the bowl of candy in the reception area, the calm, relaxing music playing throughout the office, and the sweet aroma of scented candles that greeted her upon her arrival. Ingle even went so far as to call it a “high-tech beauty salon for unborn babies.” Though she went on to state that she was still nervous (as a first-time mother-to-be), her recollections of the visit made it clear that she would never forget the impression a small candy dish and scented candles had left on her. We had gone “above and beyond” her expectations.
On the flip side, if a patient has a negative experience, they most likely won’t return.
The White House Office of Consumer Affairs reports that staggering news of bad customer service is normally shared with more than twice as many people as praise for a good service experience. So, it is of the upmost importance to guarantee that every moment of a patient’s experience within your hospital or office is a positive one. Each encounter, starting with the very first telephone call to schedule an appointment all the way to the follow-up of that appointment is vital in the retention of that patient.
Patient Retention vs. New Patient Acquisition – Which Costs More?
It should make sense that it is more cost effective to retain an existing patient than to exhaust money and time marketing to attract new patients. Dr. Baum of Touro Infirmary stated in an article of his:
“In most professions and businesses, the cost of keeping an established customer is one-fifth the cost of acquiring a new one. Medical practices are no exception. If you are not doing a good job with the patients you already have, spending thousands of dollars on a marketing plan to bring in new patients is pointless. The patients you have right now are the backbone of your practice.”
Every business, no matter what field, relies primarily on their base clientele for their main source of revenue. Therefore, exceeding your patients’ expectations is the best way to build that clientele (and thus, the stability of your practice).
Dr. Baum goes on to explain that public and private practices should both survey their patients to discover their strengths and weaknesses. He does this himself, and then he uses their feedback to improve his practice, resulting in happier patients. A survey can take the form of a simple suggestion box, personal interview, or follow-up questionnaire – any patient information regarding their experience in your office can be helpful and informative if used appropriately.
Let Patients Tell You Before They Tell The World:
At Ultrasound Dimensions, we are diligent about collecting current patient feedback in order to improve and heighten every patient’s overall experience. We simply collect our patients’ email addresses, and at the end of each week, we send out an email template, thanking them for choosing our facility and coming in. We also ask for specific feedback about their experience, positive or negative – all is welcome!
If we receive negative feedback, we proactively takes the necessary steps to remedy the situation in any way possible. Our email follow-ups are an efficient mechanism used to gather both positive and negative feedback and correct any flaws in our practice before our patients share them via word of mouth or social media. Patients understand that everyone makes mistakes, but it’s how you compensate for those mistakes that they will remember.
Our Suggestion Box For Surpassing Your Clients’ Expectations
Ready to implement a few unique touches that will set your medical practice apart from others? I have compiled a list of some simple, everyday changes your practice can make to surpass your patients’ expectations:
1. Provide Tantalizing Refreshments – We have used this very simple (yet enticing) method in our own practice for years, offering patients freshly baked cookies, fresh water, candy, coffee, etc. Have you ever walked into a bakery or a home and been greeted by the sweet smell of cookies baking? It’s one of the homiest and most comforting scents and is guaranteed to put your patients at ease from the moment they walk in the door. And yes, patients will actually return to “that doctor with the cookies!
2. Offer Visually-Stimulating Entertainment – Providing patients with the latest magazines or health journals to flip through while they wait gives them a sense that you are credible and up-to-date on the latest advances in your field. You can also display information or “fun fact” television screen presentations to keep your patients occupied during their wait in your reception area.
3. Utilize Technology – Tom Giannulli mentions in one of his articles, “According to research from the Deloitte Center for Health Solutions, two thirds of patients would actually consider switching to a physician who offers access to medical records through a secure Internet connection. Additionally, the Optum Institute has release data that the majority of patients want to communicate online with their physician about their health, receive electronic reminders, and view medical records online.”
A few of his recommended options to make available to patients online are: preventive care guidelines and recommendations, trends in the patient’s health over time, printable health educational information, printable visit summaries, patient portals, and physician’s notes about the patient. Giannulli continues by saying that over 80% of patients who have access to their medical information online access it fairly regularly and will actually use this information.
Giving your patients access to an email portal where they can email any questions they have concerning their medical needs is another plus to technology, according to Jennifer Carlquist. This enables the patient to quickly receive answers to their follow-up questions without spending an inordinate amount of time on the phone with your office.
4. Be Transparent – Patients come to your practice seeking answers, so be open. In our practice, we supply our patients with as much information as is legally possible – copies of their scans, images, test results, etc. We want to them to be able to make truly educated decisions concerning their subsequent treatment options, and therefore, we aim to be as transparent and forth-coming as possible.
5. Respect the Patient’s Time – Few things can irritate a schedule-oriented patient more than a prolonged doctor’s visit – especially one caused by the physician’s tardiness. Your patients’ time deserves the same respect that yours does. Again, Jennifer Carlquist states that this is the largest complaint against health care providers. There is no need for a patient to have to schedule three hours to meet with their doctor for one simple appointment. An on-time practice leaves a positive, lasting impression on any patient, as they have been trained to think that no doctor’s office is ever on time.
Though we try to avoid it, inevitably at some point, we all fall behind schedule. However, it’s how your practice handles the situation that makes all the difference. If you’re running 45 minutes behind, keep your patients updated. A simple phone call can do wonders for your patient relations.
6. Be Prepared – Read the patient’s file, any lab results, and main points before you approach your patient. It helps to be ready to answer any questions the patient may have about their conditions. Avoid that uncomfortable silence the patient feels while sitting on the examination table while you flip through paperwork in silence.
7. Provide Soothing Sounds – Silence is golden in a movie theatre but NOT in your office. Calm, soothing music or a waterfall feature is sure to put all patients at ease – and even present a spa-like environment.
8. Show Genuine Interest – Allow the patient to talk, and lend a sympathetic ear. JAMA published a study that found that 72% of doctors interrupted their patient’s opening statement after an average of a mere 23 seconds. No one appreciates first, being interrupted, and second, being made to feel foolish and child-like. Check your tone before you speak to the patient – kindness is not something that should be sacrificed for sake of time. While rushing through the appointment might give the impression of saving time, it is more worthwhile to hear the patient out while waiting patiently to address the issues. It also helps to be aware of your body language and nonverbal communication – offer a smile and an assuring head-nod every now and then to encourage your patient to continue communicating. Keep the medical terminology to a minimum. Everyone deserves to be heard!
9. Follow-up – Dr. Baum’s favorite and most rewarding way to surprise his patients is to call them after their appointment or operation to simply check on them. What? How many times have you actually gotten to talk to your doctor? He says it takes him approximately 10 minutes each day while on his drive home to carry out such a simple task. This can cut down on excessive visits to the office or unreturned phone calls. In that span of time, he is able to answer any questions his patients have and show that he deeply cares for his patients – even after his job is completed.
Give Them More Than They Asked For
Be mindful of the fact that what your patients will remember about your center won’t necessarily be the service they came for – they’re expecting a competent staff and medical attention. However, it will almost always be the little added touches that they will recall fondly.
Whether it’s your candy dish in the reception area, freshly baked cookies, a soothing waterfall, or a friendly voice answering the phones, the little things make the biggest difference in retaining your current patients. After all, people go to a restaurant and expect food, but when it is paired with smiles and accommodating servers, they will always remember the service rather than the food. Don’t you?
While it’s impossible to exceed everyone’s expectations and satisfy every patient’s medical dreams, putting forth more effort makes a noticeable difference in the operation of any center. So, make the small, extra effort, and personalize some simply touches in your medical office. Give your patients more than they expect, and they will be raving about (and returning to) your practice for years to come. Raising the bar begins with YOU!
So, What are some of the things you do to retain patients and surpass patient expectations?
Carlquist, Jennifer. “Nine Ways to Meet and Exceed Patient Expectations.” Journal of the American Academy of Physician Assistants. American Academy of Physician Assistants, June 2010. Web. 01 Apr. 2015.