It’s official: The newest group of professionals on my “Needs to Learn More about Service” list is in medical offices. Sorry, docs, but you’ve got a long way to go (and coming from a medical family and having managed my dad’s practice for years, I tend to look at this from both the physician’s and the patient’s perspectives). So far just this week, I’ve experienced:
- A medical staff member who attempted to say my name like this: “Bar…Ba…whatever.”
- One appointment that canceled and rescheduled, with no call to let me know—instead, they sent me a letter that arrived AFTER my original appointment.
- A reminder call for an appointment for my hubster four days early
- A medical staff member who insisted that my husband bring any medicine with him—not a list of the medicines with the strength and instructions for each, but the actual medicines themselves in their bottles, because “people don’t usually write those things down correctly.”
The medical profession has a long way to go in terms of administrative efficiency and bedside manner.
Why You Should Want to Improve Your Medical Practice
There’s no real shortage of doctors that I know of, so it’s in every physician’s best interest to make sure that his/her staff remembers that a new medical practice is but a mere phone call away. And with review sites like HealthGrades, Angie’s List, Vitals, RateMDs, and others, you simply don’t have the luxury of ignoring a badly-behaved or inefficient staff.
But more importantly, as a physician or wellness practitioner, you’re more important than almost any other service provider in a human being’s life. You take care of your patients’ bodies, sure. But you’re also the person that patients turn to when they’re the most afraid. You’re the person who can reassure someone when their greatest fear—the fear of their own mortality—comes calling. As someone who plays such a significant role in so many people’s lives, you have a responsibility to be good to your patients. And there are many ways that you can take far better care of them than you might have been taught in medical school.
5 Ways to Improve Your Medical Practice
Here are a few tips to help you make your medical practice a better place for patients:
Go the extra mile…or just the mile you’re supposed to go.
Treat your patients (who are indeed “customers,” like it or not) with respect, dignity, courtesy, and kindness.
Make sure you’re delivering great service and every patient leaves feeling that someone is looking out for them and taking care of them. My family doctor is lovely. Every time I see him, he takes the time to talk with me. He knows what’s going on in my life and understands the toll that stress takes on my body, so that he can approach my health from a complete, mind-body perspective. Another doctor that I see is so warm and friendly that every time I see her, I leave feeling upbeat, optimistic, and excited about my health. I actually leave that office feeling more like taking care of my health.
Plus, both of those doctors have staff members how go the extra mile to make me feel respected and looked after. They call when they say they’re going to, they do what they say they’re going to do, and they make sure I feel like I have a say in my own medical care. I am, after all, the one inhabiting this body.
Respect your patients’ schedules.
You can’t always predict when a patient will come in with extra complaints or talk longer than normal. As a consultant, I often experience verbose clients who need a little extra time, but it’s my job to make sure I address what we’re supposed to address today and then let them know what we can cover next time. Patients may not love being told you can’t help them with everything they want to talk about, but if you start respecting your patients’ schedules, they’ll start respecting yours (there are many ways that you can set this up in advance with your staff and start training your patients to better respect your time).
And, if you’re running behind in the schedule, rather than making patients wait for an hour or two in your waiting room, forced to read old magazines and watch talk shows, have your staff give them a call or send a text message to let them know when they should come in for their appointment. Nothing makes patients more annoyed than having to wait for you, while you’d charge them if they were late or didn’t show up.
Take care with cancellations
Never, ever cancel an appointment without telling a patient and calling him or her on the phone. Just like my appointment that I mentioned earlier, recently a friend of mine went to her scheduled doctor’s appointment (in the rain!) with her child, who was sick and in pain, but the appointment had been canceled without anyone letting my friend know. I can’t even begin to tell you how angry my friend was.
In fact, I object to the entire process of specialists scheduling appointments without talking to patients, and then just calling to let them know when the appointment will be. This goes back to respecting your patients’ schedules. Most of your patients are people who do have preferences about when they come to see you. But it’s just mere courtesy to consult with the patient and let him or her work with your staff to find a time that works for both of you.
Hire great staff members
Your staff is your greatest asset. You need people who like what they do and enjoy working with people and caring for them. The last thing you want is a surly staff who doesn’t treat your patients well. You can co-opt your patients to help you in this. Every once in awhile, ask a patient how they feel about the staff. Have they been treated well? Have they enjoyed their experience? Asking questions like this will also go a long way toward letting your patients know that they really matter to you.
Take care of your staff, too
Like I said above, your staff is your greatest asset. They will literally make or break your practice. If your receptionist puts patients on hold for ten minutes or your scheduler isn’t friendly, you can bet that your patients won’t have a very good opinion about you or your office. And remember, today patients have a voice. Review sites are a dime a dozen and patients are talking about their experiences everywhere.
Years ago patients didn’t have the kind of access to others’ experiences like they do now. Today, you can’t escape the wrath of an angry patient who’s been on hold for too long or been talked to in an unpleasant tone of voice. And one thing that stands between you and an angry review on Angie’s List or HealthGrades is an exceptional, happy staff that takes great care with your patients. The one thing that can make all the difference in the world (aside from you, of course) is a staff that delights in making your patients feel safe, comfortable, and well taken care of.
If you want that staff, then you have to take good care of your staff, just like you do your patients. Don’t just throw a holiday staff party once a year and think you’re done. Can you just imagine what your practice would look like if every staff member came in every day, thrilled and excited to work with patients and help them to feel better? What a warm and inviting place it would be and how much better your patients’ care would be! So take a little time, do the research, and find out what your staff wants and needs to be happier so that you can have a staff that shines.
As a medical professional, you’re not just in the business of healing bodies. You can’t just see your patients as bodies to be examined, diagnosed, and treated. No, today, you’re a member of a care team, and the operative word there is “care.” Start showing your patients that you and your staff actually do care, and your medical practice will thrive.