Secrets To Bolstering Patient Satisfaction

By David Edward Marcinko, MBA, CFP, CMP, and Gary L. Bode, CPA, MSA

   Most podiatrists equate marketing with advertising. However, advertising is the most expensive and often least effective facet of services marketing. Internal marketing is the most cost effective, most time effective and usually the most dignified form of marketing. Internal marketing within your practice occurs continuously even if you are unaware of it.

   Patient satisfaction opens the door to internal marketing of your practice and comprises the bulk of services marketing. We all know DPMs who are only average clinically but do extremely well. Conversely we all know great clinicians struggling to stay afloat in today’s rapidly changing healthcare environment. The difference is usually patient satisfaction.

   Some patients are delighted with us despite a result we would rather not have our colleagues see. On the other hand, other patients may angrily leave our practice us for some trivial reason despite a great clinical result.

   Numerous unconscious impressions comprise the remainder of these perceptions. A patient’s perception of any healthcare service is colored by a vast array of prior experiences that set up current expectations. The patient is pleased to the extent that his or her current perceptions exceed the preexisting expectations. This encompasses far more than the clinical result (within a relevant range) and includes such non-treatment issues as the demeanor of the staff, condition of the physical premises, psychological comfort during the visit, etc.

   Remember, all patients talk about doctors anyway. Happy patients will tell four other people you are a nice doctor. These patients are more likely to complete treatment and follow instructions. Accordingly, they have a better chance of having a good medical outcome. These patients also tend to generate additional fees for the practice in that they pay quicker and are less likely to be the source of bad debt.

   An unhappy patient vehemently tells nine others that you are a nasty rip-off artist. This is sad but true. They are not as likely to complete treatment and subsequently have a less than optimal result. They generate less in fees. They pay slower, if at all, and may create a stressful environment that has a detrimental effect on the attitude of other patients in the office.

How Patient Satisfaction Can Benefit The Practice

   Keeping patients satisfied is not only a vital component of patient care, it can bolster the referral rate and economics of your practice in several ways.

   Increased patient retention. Patient satisfaction increases patient loyalty. This translates into other factors remaining the same, more billable services given and more retail goods sold per year. All practices lose patients through death, relocation, etc. Nothing can be done about it. However, other patients defect to other practitioners or do not seek additional required treatment at all. If no other patient satisfaction program exists, other than best effort on a case-by-case basis, the techniques listed below can dramatically decrease that defection rate. Retaining a patient is more cost effective than replacing one. Note that even a 1 percent improvement in patient retention, an extremely low result, can mean thousands of extra pre-tax dollars available for practitioner salary.

   Increased new patient referral rate from current patients and staff. Not only do you retain the referral potential of current patients, but the rate and enthusiasm of existing patient referrals also improves.

   Decreased overhead percentage rate. The relative amount of profit increases secondary to improved staff efficiency as more revenue is generated on fixed expenses like rent and decreased advertising costs.

   A fee premium for being the area’s de facto preferred provider. Increased patient satisfaction skews the usual price/quantity tradeoff of patient consumerism in your favor. This is especially important for non-covered services without third party reimbursement.

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