You never get a second chance to make a first impression. We’ve all heard this conventional wisdom, but how many of us apply it in our offices? The first impression a patient has of his/her physician is the interaction with staff, whether by phone or in person. These interactions are as important as the initial encounter with the physician. The first 30 seconds of any encounter can set the tone for the rest of the visit. A satisfied patient is one that feels their expectations have been met .Understanding and managing patient’s expectations is a risk reducing technique as, for the most part, patients don’t sue physicians they like!
- The front office environment and staff attitude form the first impression. Below are some tips on how to increase patient satisfaction and continued loyalty:
- Telephones should be answered quickly and hold times should be minimal. Patients should never be placed on hold unless they agree.
- Office staff should greet the patients promptly with a warm & friendly attitude. Establish guidelines in your office for how patients should be greeted.
- Office staff should never ignore a patient and should always make the patient their first priority. Paperwork and conversations with other staff members can wait.
- Staff should actively listen to patients without interruption. Appropriate questions to clarify concerns should be asked.
- If there is going to be a delay, let patients know what to expect. Patients should be offered the option to reschedule if the wait time is extensive.
- Apology is effective. It’s amazing how a little empathy and the words “I’m sorry” can quickly defuse a situation.
- Everyone in the office should thank patients by expressing gratitude for their trust and confidence in your practice.
Satisfying and retaining current patients is significantly less expensive than acquiring new patients. Ninety six percent of dissatisfied patients won’t complain---they simply won’t come back or adhere to treatment recommendations. Dissatisfied patients will tell up to 10 people about their experience. A satisfied patient will tell 5. Patients expect to be listened to and receive a clear explanation of diagnosis and treatment. The importance of communication in reducing patient dissatisfaction and potential lawsuits can not be over emphasized. How the message is conveyed can be as important as what is said.
Conducting patient satisfaction surveys or feed-back forms can also provide insight into areas of your practice that may need improvement. Topics to be addressed should include:
- Ability to make appointments in a timely manner
- Ability to contact physician after hours
- Waiting time
- Ability to obtain test results
- Ability to be referred to specialists
- Treatment by staff
- Treatment by physician
- Billing concerns
- Questions about the visit
This valuable information can be used for corrective actions as well as to identify dissatisfied patients. An article by G. Hickson et al. (Patient complaints and malpractice risk. JAMA. 2002; 287 (22): 2951-2957), found an association between unsolicited patient complaints and malpractice claims. The number of complaints was found to predict subsequent claims activity. A formal complaint process can be part of a feedback form or survey. Focusing on patient communication and satisfaction can help you avoid events that increase liability exposure.
Communication tips to improve patient satisfaction include:
- Practice good bedside manner
Educate the patient
- Make eye contact
- Call patients by name
- Introduce yourself by name
- Shake hands
- Sit down
- Use layman terms
- Be patient
- Take the time to ask questions
- Take the time to answer questions
- Ask patients “do you understand?”
- Obtain informed consent yourself
- Explain risks and benefits of
- Report tests in a timely fashion
- Return phone calls promptly
- Train all staff members about effective and caring communication
Remember that positive attitude and good customer service starts at the top. Treating patients as you would like to be treated will convey a caring attitude.
A template of a Patient Satisfaction Survey is available on the Risk Management section of the MGO website.