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 oftentimes 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, and 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 of in order to prevent losing current patients.
Four practice areas to be focused on
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. While this goes for all personnel, it is particularly important for the front office staff. The front office staff is often the first (and sometimes the last) person your patients talk to—and this sets the tone for the visit. A well-trained front office employee is the start of a delightful experience for patients and the rest of the clinic’s personnel. The front office staff is the first and last impression of your practice. The front desk employees are the first ones to see your patients, the last ones to see your patients, and they’re the ones who the patients are going to talk to when they have problems. The front desk really carries a lot of weight.
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.
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 a facility’s 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.
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.
Patients make inferences about how much they are valued by their provider based on the experiences they have during a clinic visit. 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 strategic healthcare initiatives.
Since founding ABISA in 2007, his emphasis has been on developing and maintaining a strong relationship with physicians and identifying areas for business opportunity and support. The company’s client list includes physician groups, hospital systems, healthcare IT organizations, venture capitalists, private equity firms, and hedge fund managers.
Nick is a graduate of the United States Naval Academy and a former Captain in the U.S. Marine Corps. He holds MBA degrees in both Operations Management and Information Technology & E-Business Management from Wake Forest University. He is Board Certified in Healthcare Management and has been named a Fellow of the American College of Healthcare Executives.
He is a frequent guest lecturer and is often quoted in the national media. He has consulted with clients in multiple countries and has over 20 years of leadership and operations experience. Nick is a Subject Matter Expert in business strategy, practice management, telemedicine, health IT, and oncology.