Does anyone else hate this experience?
You go into a doctor’s office, step up to the sliding window to deal with the apparently overworked person sitting behind the desk, fill out the same form asking the same questions with answers that must surely be sitting in some database somewhere, only to be directed back to the big open room with odd chairs and old magazines, pressed between other sick people to wait to be called back for your appointment? Why has this model changed so little since the concept of a doctor’s office was actually invented? As healthcare providers, we lament decreases in reimbursement, competitive pressures, demanding patients, increasing costs etc. What are we doing to “up our game”,increase our value or…gasp!…differentiate ourselves!
The good news is that creative examples abound. When talking to practices about how to improve their margins and enhance their services, I often make comparisons to the world of retail. Good retail operations are all about the experience: the environment, the products and the service are all designed to make you want to be there, to buy something and to come back. Is there anything more experiential than someone providing health services to you? It doesn’t get much more personal.
From the moment a patient walks in the door to your practice, you are communicating something to them. The decor, the people, the processes and the wait all indicate how much you value them as a patient…and as a customer. Smart practitioners are figuring out ways to enhance the patient experience beyond basic medical services. They are beginning to think with a “retail” frame of mind. How can we extend our wellness and healing services such that our patients become fans? What else can we be doing to broaden our patient relationships in ways that help them and help us?
Here are some areas on which to focus:
- ENVIRONMENT. Walk into your office tomorrow, sit down in a chair in your waiting room and ask yourself: How does this room make me feel? What does the furniture, color, lighting and layout say about ME and MY practice? The reality is that it says everything about you. Your
waiting room is the physical embodiment of your attitude towards your patients. Seize the opportunity and make it a reflection of what you want to say to your patients: I care.
- SERVICE. Have you ever stood in the shadows and watched/listened to how your staff interact with your patients? You might be surprised and/or mortified. As in any business, they must be trained in how you want them to treat your patients and held accountable to that standard. Otherwise, you will get the natural ebb and flow of moods and impatience that occur when people deal with other people. Let’s face it, patients can be challenging and it’s natural for us to become impatient at times. You must address this proactively with your team and communicate your expectations or you will be on the receiving end of bad reviews and potential revenue loss.
- PROCESS. Do you make your patients do extra work? Do you ask them to fill out reams of forms and sign duplicate documents simply because no one has taken the time to streamline the process? Why are you still using paper? Leverage technology! Technology shows that you are out in front embracing better ways to take care of your patients. Find ways to make the necessary process evils easier for your patients and they will notice.
- WAIT TIME. Nothing says: “I think my time is more valuable than yours” more than making a person wait. In general, we give folks 5-10 minutes of latitude before we become annoyed. Things happen and most people understand. However, doctors are notorious for making people wait. The excuse? “I had a patient situation arise and it put me behind.” You mean to tell me you didn’t anticipate that patient situations might occur? More often than not, the issue is over-scheduling. Why? Because you’re trying to maximize revenue. RESPECT YOUR PATIENT’S TIME. It might decrease revenue in the short term but it will build value over the long term.
- CONVENIENCE. What else can we offer at the point-of-care to make our patient’s life better? There are many options: drugs, vaccinations, dietary products, tests, ancillary medical procedures/services, education/information. Each “extra” you offer saves the patient another stop, another delay on the path to getting better or feeling better. Many practitioners eschew this “retail” approach because they feel it lessens their status as the unbiased expert or they are afraid of looking too “salesy”. The reality is that patients want you to guide them and make it easy for them to get better. Physicians are in a unique position to impact outcomes by providing the most complete solution possible. A compelling by-product is that this can be a win for the practitioner as well.
Don’t misunderstand, the ultimate objective is to provide the best care possible to your patient. I’m not suggesting that you turn your practice into a retail carnival. However, great medical care is now just the ante to the healthcare game. The proliferation of services designed to measure your effectiveness as a practitioner has begun and your patients are now being educated as never before. You MUST be good at practicing medicine. Just remember, good medicine is no longer enough. The most successful physicians of tomorrow will be great at the practice of medicine, great at the business of medicine and great at creating the best patient experience.