The changes to the healthcare industry are increasingly focused on addressing patients as consumers. Such a change means that providers must, of course, emphasize quality and work toward price transparency, but they must also seek to determine what patients desire most. It is this last effort that is transforming the healthcare sector more like businesses of other sectors; what consumers want is what drives competition and ingenuity (and often times commoditization).

Perhaps more than ever, physicians need to be focused not just on attracting more patients, but also on not losing the patients they have. Under the healthcare reform legislation, the federal government views patients as consumers. Consequently, national attention has been placed on the patients as consumers as well. That attention has not gone unnoticed. Indeed, patients are educated healthcare consumers and many are tired of being treated poorly. Aside from physician-specific interaction, there are four areas practices should be attentive to in order to prevent losing current patients.

1. Staff demeanor

The correlation between respect and patient safety has been well-documented, but a disrespectful staff can also impact the health of your practice. Whether it is absent-mindedness or plain unprofessional behavior on behalf of your staff, these poor attitudes will lead to lost patients.

No matter how small the staff, most practices could use a primer (or refresher) on customer service. Using words such as “please”, “thank you”, and “you’re welcome” can go a long way.

 

2. Office appearance

There are many things your practice can do to overcome this without spending a ton of money on remodeling. Does your staff straighten magazines and tidy up throughout the day? How old is your reading material in the lobby and waiting areas? It is a good rule to never have magazines that are a year old. When is the last time your lobby received a fresh coat of paint? If you have a small operation and do not have janitorial service nightly, then on the “off” days, have your receptionist run a vacuum through the lobby area at the end of the day.

 

3. Design elements

Patients prefer hospitality design elements. To this end, medical offices and hotels share the challenge of designing facilities that are cost-effective, are functional, and promote their organizations’ missions. Research shows that facility design influences customer behaviors and brand perceptions in a variety of industries. Customers make decisions about a company’s capabilities and quality based on their perceptions of the physical setting. Such consumer decisions are very important in healthcare since clinical outcomes are often intangible and difficult to measure for non-clinicians. Research has shown that a patient’s perception of quality can be influenced by facilities design. Several studies found that patients surveyed in physically attractive waiting areas gave higher ratings on quality of care and patient-staff interactions. These patients also were more willing to recommend the facility to others than those surveyed in comparatively unattractive waiting rooms.

 

4. Appointment scheduling

Scores of data from patient satisfaction surveys show that patients are extremely frustrated when their appointment time is delayed significantly. While patient care is certainly not as programmed as an automated manufacturing line, many practices could run much more efficiently if they scrutinized the operational flow of the practice. As time-impacting issues arise during the day, communicate that to your patients. They will be much more forgiving if they are aware of the schedule; remember, it is highly unlikely that this appointment to your office is the only thing they have on their agenda for the day.

Physicians should take a measured approach to the future of their practice, keeping in mind that patients define value as appointment access and availability. Patients still tend to assess provider quality in terms of service and access. It’s the wait time, the rude staff, and the inability to stick to a schedule that anger patients. The key is to not have patients leave the practice because of poor office policies or simple misunderstandings.

Nick Hernandez, MBA, FACHE
Nick Hernandez, MBA, FACHE, is the CEO and Founder of ABISA, a consultancy specializing in solo and small group practice management. He has consulted with clients in multiple countries and has over 20 years of leadership and operations experience. His emphasis has been on developing and maintaining a strong relationship with physicians and identifying areas for business opportunity and support. He holds MBA degrees in both Operations Management and Information Technology & E-Business Management from Wake Forest University. He is also Board Certified in Healthcare Management and has been named a Fellow of the American College of Healthcare Executives.

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