Secrets To Bolstering Patient Satisfaction

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Patient satisfaction can bolster the referral rate and economics of your practice in several ways.
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Author(s): 
By David Edward Marcinko, MBA, CFP, CMP, and Gary L. Bode, CPA, MSA

   The first priority one should address is any haphazard, sloppy office procedures. From the patient’s perspective, any administrative mix-up (double billing, lost records, staff problems) can create a perception of poor practice management and patients may even take this a step further and link it to poor clinical quality. Logically streamlining operations can eliminate many possible impediments to patient satisfaction.

   Revamping your scheduling procedure can help reduce the wait. Remember, solutions have to work for you as well as patients. One must balance decreased waiting time with optimal work capacity. Again, perception is important. An empty reception area, while optimal for minimal wait, may make patients wonder why you are not busier.

   Freeing the receptionist from other duties at crucial times may ensure patients always get a person on the line. Emphasizing phone etiquette training may help phone efficiency. Getting other staff members to pitch in when needed is another possible solution.

   Modifying billing policies and having a soundproof room in which to discuss them may help isolate one irate patient’s squabble.

Taking Appropriate Action After A Problem Arises

   What action can one take to remedy a problem such as a billing dispute? In any potentially detrimental situation, delineate what the staff can do to make it right. A service paradox exists and timely, appropriate action can sometimes build more patient satisfaction than if the situation had never occurred.

   A dispute over price should not occur in front of other patients. Many receptionists find that genuine, cute little quips like, “I know it seems high, but (wink), I’m expensive to maintain,” defuse the situation by gently pointing out the overhead factor. When a patient balks at fees, gently and politely imply that we could inquire if the local plumber was available to do the exam, procedure or surgery. A little humor brings training and relative cost issues into play while making them smile. Costs are high but justifiable.

   Another common problem is a long patient wait. It is not enough to just have policies in place that help prevent a prolonged wait from occurring. There must also be policies in place that ameliorate an adverse situation when it does arise. This can involve placating a patient over long wait or reassuring a patient about an empty waiting room. An apology from you and/or the staff might be one technique, in the form of saying “I’m so sorry to keep you waiting. The doctor and I really try to stay on schedule because we know how valuable time is for our patients.” Offering some refreshments might be another approach. In extreme cases, giving patients a beeper and turning them loose until you need to see them may work.

   Many patients will be impressed that you have even considered how the wait affects them. If the wait is not too long, sometimes the above management techniques can actually build more patient satisfaction than just seeing them on time.

In Conclusion

   By proactively anticipating the entire visit from the patient’s perspective, the DPM can structure and arrange things so patients have mostly positive perceptions. This can be done despite all the potential variables in the mix that can affect and shape patient perception. Patient satisfaction can be improved in any office and anyone can improve it.

   Obviously, there is no standard cookbook recipe to ensure patient satisfaction. Try to get the big picture. Identify the worst areas and fix them. Identify the best areas and reinforce them. Proceed slowly. It can be done one facet at a time. Adapt things to your own managerial style and personality. Be completely open to suggestion and change.

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