Secrets To Bolstering Patient Satisfaction

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

   Decreased time for accounts in the accounts receivable cycle and a decreased bad debt ratio.

   Improved office morale, less stress and increased joy from practicing your profession.

How Internal Marketing Can Make A Difference

   Internal marketing becomes especially important when the public does not perceive differences in practitioner skill as significant. Internal marketing can also be beneficial and/or in an area saturated with other practitioners.

   For example, the world’s best heart transplant surgeon does not have to worry about his or her location, office dynamics or personality adversely affecting patients. A suburban podiatrist does need to worry about such things if surrounded by other DPMs, orthopedists, physical therapists and an ambulatory surgery center, all competing for the same patient base.

   One example of internal marketing through increased patient satisfaction occurred a few years ago. Some patients were concerned, perhaps subliminally or overtly, about contracting AIDS, hepatitis or the West Nile Virus in the DPM’s office. If staff is trained to point out the existing sterilization controls, how the office exceeds OSHA requirements and how meticulous you are, these patients relax. This “marketing” merely points out to the patient things you take for granted and removes a psychological barrier to full compliance. It is not bragging or manipulation. There is a remarkable positive cycle of benefits for everyone. There is no downside. Nobody is displeased to see you maintain a clean office. Today, one can accomplish the same thing with the HIPAA statutes given the heightened sensibility about patient confidentiality.

Understand The Variables That Can Affect Patient Satisfaction

   Patient satisfaction can be affected by many variables. Most patients do not predefine what would be “acceptable” from their encounter, but have vaguely defined ranges of prior expectations that are gleaned from a lifetime of healthcare related experience. Any variance between this “acceptable” range of expectations and each trivial encounter invokes some degree of positive or negative feeling in the patient.

   The total perception of the office experience is an aggregate of multiple trivial and often subliminal observations. Patient satisfaction is complicated by:

   Inter-patient variables. There may be a significant difference among patients in their “podiatric expectations.”

   Intra-patient variables. A single patient can perceive the same thing or situation differently at different times, depending on uncontrollable variables like mood or context of occurrence which the practice could (sometimes and/or partially) control.

   “Luck of the draw” in physical variables. Does Sally or Mary escort the patient to the exam room? Was it the blue or green exam room? Did the last patient who used the restroom leave a disgusting mess? Try to eliminate problems that might cause negative perceptions and implement controls to help ensure positive perceptions.

   Heterogeneous staff variables. Even with appropriate training, people have their own individual quirks.

Emphasize Problem Prevention

   When trying to manage variables in the office to bolster patient satisfaction, it may be easier for most practitioners to start with avoidance strategies.

   One can anticipate and prevent detrimental patient encounter issues. Have the staff list everything they have seen as problems in the past. These problems may include things like prolonged waits, dirty bathrooms, getting an answering machine instead of a person, loud patient arguments over bills, etc.

   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.

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