Five ways to transform the customer-service mindset among providers and clinic leadership.
By Irv Barnett, MBA, CMPE, V2V Founder and Transformationist
A few years ago, a primary care physician-client of mine was faced with an opportunity. Her patients started contacting her practice after receiving their insurance EOBs, wanting to discuss their charges with her. Not an uncommon occurrence, but their reasoning was extraordinary.
Turns out they were so thrilled with their experience at her practice, from their welcome to her exam, to the post-appointment follow-up, that they felt the payers’ reimbursements were too low.
Repeatedly, her patients told her things like “we saw our EOBs and we were shocked at how little you were paid.” She decided to go without insurance contracts and has never looked back. Her patients are happy and she has found sustainable success in her medical practice.
Then the other day, we interviewed someone for a new position with the V2V team. She’s just earned her degree in healthcare leadership. During our interview, we discussed her work experience as a restaurant server over the past several years. She paid for a good portion of her tuition by the tips she earned from happy customers.
She seemed apologetic for her lack of health care experience. However, given the transformation of our industry, her work on the front lines of customer service is exactly what this industry needs right now. So, I asked her, “How many patients do you think would leave a 20% tip at the front desk at the end of their appointment?” That one earned a chuckle and we had a great interview.
Let’s consider the patient experience at the practice I mentioned, earlier. Well before the appointment, patients receive reminders, based on their preferences. They’ve also received the documents they need to complete, whether for patient records or insurance verification. They understand the appointment purpose and duration, whether before or at the outset of the physician encounter. Their appointment exceeds expectations and instructions are understood. If other questions arise, patients know where to get help. They receive a follow-up, later that same day, asking about their experience.
Happy Patients and Payers Contribute to Your Sustainable Success
What would it be like as a patient working his or her way through your practice? Do you welcome patients? What do they expect during appointments? Does your practice exceed those expectations? With the work many clinics, hospitals, and medical groups are doing nowadays toward profitability gap closure and diagnose codes for billing capture or to increase physician productivity, patient care can be a foregone conclusion. We’re in the patient care business, of course.
As patient satisfaction and outcomes are aligning with compensation, it’s more important than ever. Consider for a moment or two, is my care so valuable to my patients that they would eagerly pay extra in gratuity for their care? To answer this question, you must see things from the frame of reference of your patients. Remember, most do not have the level of experience or even the lexicon of your specialty. So how does your practice acquire patient mindset? It requires specific intention and action.
Create Great Relationships with Your Patients – Five Steps
On the front lines of customer service, the #1 reason people are loyal to a brand is perceived high quality, value-for-price-paid, and great customer service. Translated into health care terms, patient loyalty includes ease-of-access, perceived quality of facilities, their first impression of the practice, the patient encounter, itself, their perception of your compassion, and your post-appointment follow-up. These factors greatly influence your patients’ experience with your practice and your care:
- First impressions are crucial: My colleague, Deb Wiggs, just wrote about the Dust Bunnies in the Exam Room, and it cannot be overstated that your health care setting must reflect the highest standards. Your greeting must reflect that you are calm and ready to serve the patient in front of you, whether you are at the beginning or end of a 20-hour day.
- Respect your patients’ time: At most clinics, if your patient is more than 15 minutes late for an appointment, he or she misses it, entirely. Some may even be charged a missed appointment fee that is far higher than the co-pay because it’s not covered by health insurance. With that in mind, don’t make your patients wait. Emergencies notwithstanding, make it your practice to not overbook, and to keep track of the time you spend, per appointment. If you consistently find that you take too much time, then either work with your schedulers to expand your appointment times or block out appointments that allow you to “catch up” and remain on track. Returning to our restaurant comparison, if you go out for a phenomenal dinner but have to wait almost two hours to be fed, wouldn’t that experience be reflected in your tip?
- Go beyond communicating, help people understand: Level-set the appointment purpose from the beginning and ensure you exceed their expectations at the conclusion. And, the best way to do that is to begin by asking your patients, “Why are we here, today?” If they are seeing you for a pain in their knee, with an appointment length reflecting that and they launch in with a laundry list of other ailments, it’s your opportunity to manage their expectations. Follow up with “Do you understand? Do you have concerns?” And give them a way to reach out to you or your team after the appointment, because with some diagnoses you know that once your patients take the time to absorb what you’ve told them and to read their care or prescription instructions, again, inevitably follow-on questions will arise.
- Read your patient satisfaction reviews…and take them to heart: If your patients care enough to say something, whether in formal surveys or on social media sites like Yelp, WebMD, or Healthgrades, they want to be heard. Their opinions provide valuable detail on how to improve or evolve your patient encounter practices.
- Use technology advancements to their fullest extent, with the patient in mind: Today’s technology has gone far beyond the EMR. Tech can help you improve patient communication, including management of social media reviews and more, it can help you ensure timely appointment reminders, payments, patient follow-up, help with disease state management, and satisfaction. Without exception, strategic investments into the harnessing the right tech at the right place and time will more than pay for itself.
So, what aspects of their experience would motivate a patient to leave a tip for your practice? Our goal is to ensure you become ADEPTSM at your healthcare business for years to come. Instituting patient care and communication programs with specific intent can effectively stem patient load erosion and outmigration, offering a Distinct AdvantageSM in business growth and development. What sets you apart? And, what’s holding you back from realizing sustainable success? We can help.