Physician practices thrive on a continual stream of new patients for their long-term survival. Historically, a patient chose a primary care practice based on the proximity to their home or by recommendation from a list of providers given by their insurance company.
After an initial visit to the primary care physician, the patient would then be referred to a specialist as needed. Patients often had limited control in this process and little choice about which specialists they could access.
Over the last few decades, however, patients have started taking greater control of their healthcare needs based on information available online about health care systems and provider groups in their area. A wealth of material including physician evaluation sites, Google reviews, and insurance company patient ratings are just a few of the tools accessible to patients. While these sites provide valuable insight into other patients’ view of the care they received from a practice and help set expectations of an upcoming visit to a provider, the decision is frequently made based on one of the following factors:
Assuming that a physician provides quality care to his/her patients and the practice is conveniently located, practices must continually focus on the one element that can be easily influenced by others – a referral from friends or family. How can your practice earn a referral from existing patients? The patient should not only receive expert medical care from the physician, but must also have a positive experience with all staff members from check-in to check-out. Let’s take a moment to look in-depth at a few of these positions to ensure that your employees are making a positive impression in the lives of your patients.
The initial contact in most physician practices today is made via the scheduling of new patient appointments. The scheduling staff should be courteous and able to create a pleasant phone interaction so that the patient feels welcome. Every patient should sense that the staff is happy to assist with scheduling, so continual customer service training is vital to a practice’s welfare. The scheduling process should be easy and convenient. Because patients often don’t have the time to schedule appointments during regular business hours, it is important to offer online, self-scheduling feature, which can help with patient satisfaction. With online scheduling, at any time of the day or night the patient can request an appointment, leading to filled gaps in schedules from last minute cancellations or changes.
The reception a patient receives at the front desk upon check-in sets the tone for their entire visit. If the front-desk staff fails to make eye contact and welcome the patient to the practice in a warm way, they miss an opportunity to positively affect the mood of the patient, which can ultimately undermine the entire visit. Studies have found that many patients choose to leave a practice in part due to the way they are treated by front desk staff. Ensuring that all front desk staff members are mindful of every patient that walks through the door and treats everyone courteously will go a long way in providing a pleasant experience for the patient.
In most practices, a medical assistant spends more time with a patient than any other staff member outside of the physician. Therefore, the medical assistant often has the ability to influence the patient experience more dramatically than any other employee. The medical assistant should give undivided attention to the patient during their visit, taking great measure to listen to the patient’s questions and help ease any concerns they may have. When patients feel they have been treated like a priority, satisfaction increases.
As you can see, while many factors may draw a patient into a practice, the experience they have in the office is what brings them back and is ultimately what leads to referrals. Loyal patients are created by providing quality care and a positive experience, which simply comes down to treating a patient exactly how you would like to be treated.
David G. Carmichael serves as the CEO for Birmingham Obstetrics Gynecology, P.C.
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