It may seem odd to consider your patients as your customers, but ultimately medical professionals run their business selling services to customers. This means that to win patient loyalty you need to prioritise and invest in customer service if you want to keep them happy and coming back.
Newsflash. Your patients are your customers.
Patients are a unique kind of customer. They are usually in pain, feeling unwell, and likely to have heightened anxiety when visiting your business. They may have sick and agitated children hanging off them. Not fun!
Put simply, patients are not in the best frame of mind when they visit you, so you have to work harder to keep them happy. They are never wearing rose-tinted glasses.
Delivering outstanding customer service to patients is more challenging than in other service industries, and patients are more likely to judge you harshly if you do not perform to their expectations. In today’s world this can easily result in negative online reviews that quickly become damaging for your business.
From the moment a patient enters your practice it is up to your team to provide the best experience that you possibly can. Not only does this increase the likelihood that they will become a loyal customer, the bigger payback is the positive word-of-mouth referrals. For for a practice with a 15,000 patient base this can account for around 10% of your practice’s new patients.
Clearly the benefits of providing outstanding service in healthcare are significant. So, what exactly can you do to deliver a better experience? Here are some tips for areas to focus on.
The aesthetic of your practice reflects the perceived quality of the treatment experience, and patients will judge your book by its cover. Giving your practice appearance a makeover doesn’t have to be a hugely costly exercise and there are some simple touches that make a real difference such as a fresh lick of paint, some flowers, and flooring that doesn’t have the smell of the 70s.
We have often lamented the fact that we have let our ‘patient foyers’ become known as waiting rooms. The very name implies a lack of care to timeliness in service delivery. That said, the least we can do is spruce up our waiting rooms to make our patients feel comfortable. Start with the seating and work from there. Comfortably sitting patients are less of a squeaky wheel.
Do whatever you can to keep the little ones happy, and you’ll keep the big ones happy.
These are the highlight of the visit for many of your patients, no offence to your exemplary bedside charm. Spend a bit of money on a generous selection that caters to all of your patient demographics. Take annual subscriptions and bundling options for significant cost savings. Anything less than 10 current magazines just isn’t good enough.
People are addicted to their modern technology and you need to facilitate their use of it whilst waiting for their practitioner. Free Wi-Fi is a low cost, high-value-perceived item that is probably attractive to more than 50% of your customer base, so provide it.
Sick kids are terribly upsetting, not only for their parents but for the other patients trapped in a waiting room with them. We’ve all been stuck on a plane in the vicinity of an upset child and it can be a dreadful experience. Keep them entertained and you’ll keep all of your patients happier. Invest in some books, toys, activities, and drawing items… Do whatever you can to keep the little ones happy, and you’ll keep the big ones happy.
Reduce Wait Times
The biggest inconvenience for your patients is keeping them waiting. Unfortunately the medical fraternity has developed a reputation of poor timeliness in service provision. However, you have the opportunity to swim against the stream and run a practice with minimal wait times. This is such a biggie it deserves its own article. So we wrote one!
On The Day Bookings
Blocking off a percentage of your consults for bookings made on the same day may seem risky, especially for practices that are mature and have strong bookings. However, the benefits for your patients in being able to secure on-the-day bookings are perceived as extremely high value, and will help you build a high convenience reputation.
These days we make online bookings for travel, restaurants, and yes, medical appointments. If you don’t have an Online Booking System you are officially behind the times and will lose patients because of it.
My practice averages 60-70 online bookings after hours every day. This means that even though we’re closed, our patients are sill booking appointments with us, and that these patients aren’t going to the practice down the road because we were unavailable.
— Steve Cohen-Jones, GP Practice Owner
An Online Booking System also results in a reduction in your phone traffic. This is a huge relief to both your staff and to those patients no longer waiting on hold.
Know Your Patients
Patients want the old fashioned care of walking into a practice where the front desk staff know their name, their children’s name and where they went on their last holiday. If you know of their ailment and empathise sufficiently it’s the icing on the cake!
This is not easy to achieve, especially for larger clinics. However, the benefits of training your team to greet each patient by name and make them feel special upon arrival is perhaps the single most valuable thing that you can do to retain your patients. It shows that you actually do care.
Invest In Nurses
Nurses are invaluable and are the unsung heroes of a medical practice. They can deliver care to patients whilst waiting for their doctor. Their happy and spirited demeanour can have a Mary Poppins-like effect on the ‘vibe’ of the practice and the experience for patients.
Get your nurses to call in waiting patients and check their blood pressure, height, weight, BMI, and have a quick chat. This eases the time pressure on your doctors and makes the patient feel wanted, attended to, and cared for.
Connect With Your Patients
Send your patients appointment reminders. Send them automated recalls. Send them information relevant to them that shows that you care. It could be a birthday card or a letter offering a care plan. Any opportunity to connect with your patients demonstrates that you care and will pay dividends for your practice.
Improving your patient’s experience doesn’t have to be costly! Most of the tips outlined above are either free, or are a small change to the way that you’re currently operating your practice.
Remember — even if some changes require an upfront spend, they are guaranteed to deliver excellent return on investment in the form of a full book of loyal patients.