The balance in the two-word phrase “medical service” has shifted. Patients today assume they will get effective medical treatment when they visit a physician or PA. It is a super important, but a “taken for granted,” table stake. But, after a visit to Nordstrom or Disney World and an order from Amazon.com, today’s service-sensitive patients focus their evaluation on the service side of the two-word phrase. Here is a quick check to assess the service side of your practice.

Can I complete your new patient forms easily online instead of the archaic paper and pencil forms after arrival? Do you text me reminders about my appointment? Do you manage my wait if there is any gap between my on-time arrival and when I am roomed? Is your reception area interesting and educational? Do you not only keep me informed about what is transpiring during my visit but let me know why? Do you treat me like a smart protégé eager to learn about my health or as a dependent patient only interested in physical repair?

If your favorite, great service providing organization were in charge of my patient experience, how would it change? Are there efforts to surprise me in delightful ways? My physician knows I like Hazelnut-flavored black coffee and fetches me a cup from their Keurig coffee machine after my fasting has ended in preparation for my physical or a procedure. Do you have a Board of Patients providing you feedback, ideas, and guidance much like the board of directors guides an enterprise? Do you make getting my feedback a super high priority? I may not be able to evaluate your medical prowess, but I am world-class at assessing your “bedside” manner and hosting skills of your staff.

 

A case study in remarkable

It was 6:15 pm on a Sunday night and I was flying out the following day to North Dakota to give a keynote speech. After enduring an afternoon of aches, I finally checked my temperature. I immediately called the Lake Oconee Urgent Care and got receptionist Christine. “You know we close in the summer at 6:30pm, but come on and we will get you right in.”

At 6:35, I crossed their threshold. Christine had already generated the paperwork and had an examining room on hold for me. With a twinkle in her eye, she asked if my birthdate had changed and what it was today. When I told her my birthdate, she smiled, “Yes, I have it here. I just wanted to make sure you were you and not someone else with your name!!

Shortly after I was roomed, I heard, “Good evening, I’m Joe, your PA.” Following lots of questions, patient listening, and an examination, the PA indicated a blood test was needed. Seconds later, the nurse appeared. “Good evening, I’m Nurse Dracula here to take your blood I really, really need.”  I laughed and started to feel better. At 6:55, I had a diagnosis, a prescription called in and waiting for me at the nearby 24-hour pharmacy, and was ready to leave. As I walked out Joe said, “Please call me on my cell if you have concerns. And, break a leg in North Dakota tomorrow!

 

Lessons from the case study

Look back on my example. The Urgent Care had hours convenient to their patients, not the typical 9-5; Monday through Friday followed by an answering service or machine. On the business end of my phone call was a friendly person ready to adjust to my needs, not make me a slave to their rules. And, she paved the way by expediting my progress through their system from allowing me to arrive late to reserving an examining room for me. She respected the HIPAA rule (accurate identity of the patient), but did it in a clever, personal way and not with a stoic “Rules ‘R Us” attitude.

The PA was warm, attentive and listened to who I was, not just what I needed. There was no sense of being rushed so he could meet some “number of patients served” efficiency quota. The nurse turned a routine blood test into something enchanting, not just invasive.  Wait time was managed with the efficiency of a pit crew at the Indy 500. The vendor connection—medical facility to pharmacy—was crafted and managed with the patient’s need for hassle-free efficiency hardwired into the process.

And, the best part: “Call me on my cell phone if you have any concerns.” I typically get to contact an answering service who would relay my call to the “person on call” thus elevating my anxiety by building in a delay.

Examine your patients’ experiences through their eyes and feelings in order to manage their experiences. Call your own practice, disguise your voice, and ask for something out of the ordinary to get a true litmus test on what your patients’ experiences. Watch your patients in action as they negotiate your processes and ask: If Nordstrom or Amazon served as your “experience auditor,” what might they recommend?

Make all patient conversations an easy, neighborly dialogue. In the words of Winnie-the-Pooh, “It’s more fun to talk with someone who doesn’t use long difficult words but rather short easy words like ‘What about lunch?‘” And, share what you learn from patient conversations so it fuels improvement that deepens their loyalty.

Patients today are no longer dependent, obedient people who suffer “white coat syndrome” when “I’m DOCTOR Jones” enters the room. Patients today are not only empowered, they have expectations of great service, not just functional service. We all know procedures can be important—especially, in organizations as highly regulated as healthcare. But, your patients will remember how you made them feel long after they have forgotten what you did.

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