Before Treating Their Feet, Try Walking In Their Shoes

Lynn Homisak PRT

Don’t your patients deserve an excellent treatment experience? Here are a few examples of providing an optimal environment for patients from the first moment they contact the office.

On the phone. A unique thing happened to me the other day when I called a doctor’s office to make an appointment. I was a potential new patient; that should make me pretty special to them, don’t you think? “I’m sorry,” said the receptionist, “Dr. Mightierthanthou cannot see you until December 30th.”

“Wow!” I said. “Really? That’s almost three months away. The doctor has nothing before then?”

“That’s right. Nothing. She’s very busy and has no openings.” She didn’t ask what my problem was, didn’t triage it and/or didn’t care. All I heard was her abrupt, calculated reply, delivered on a stone cold platter of apathy.

At that point, I really felt like she just wanted to end the call but I didn’t let her. This doctor came highly referred and I really wanted to see her. I wouldn’t be in town during the Christmas holidays but since this appointment was not an emergency, I bit my lip and pursued the conversation.

“I’m not available on December 30,” I said, “so please put me in for Janua ...” Before I could finish, she interrupted, “I can’t do that. I don’t have my January schedule. Call me back in about two weeks and I’ll book you then.”

“Wait,” I demanded. “Are you suggesting I hang up the phone without making an appointment? If I do that, I’ll likely make an appointment elsewhere.”

Without skipping a beat and sounding agitated, her negative response (again) was, “There’s nothing I can do” … and then she went silent.

I was stunned. I expected a helpful, welcoming phone personality who wanted to give me an appointment and instead I got a brush-off.

Phone manners and helpfulness don’t cost much more than a little effort and don’t your patients deserve that?

At the front desk. If staff members handle the phone properly, new patients happily show up for their appointment and their next encounter with the office is at the front desk. What are their expectations as they walk through the door for the first time? What do they look for?

Call me crazy but first thing on my menu of expectations is a friendly greeting of some sort. “Hello! Welcome to our office. Can I help you?” Is that too much to ask? If that greeting could also come with a smile, I’m sold.

On the other hand, if I have to stand there feeling ignored for 10 silent seconds before someone even looks up, that’s 10 awkward, silent seconds too long and I am already uncomfortable.

I’m looking for acknowledgement, a warm welcome and a smile from a well-groomed professional. None of these cost much more than a little effort and don’t your patients deserve that?

In the reception room. The paperwork is completed and the patient takes a seat and waits to be called. What do patients expect? Some may appreciate that there is a TV to help them pass the time while others just hope for current magazines to browse through. If you throw in a coffee center, water cooler, some soft, relaxing music and perhaps a play corner for their kids, they will temporarily be entertained. Fresh flowers or plants are always a nice touch (patients like knowing you can keep things alive).

However, when all is said and done, here’s what patients really want: on-time appointments, maybe some relaxing chairs and a clean, neat environment. What they don’t like … is waiting. Do you? If patients must wait, a clean, comfortable surrounding makes it a bit easier. Take the time to routinely remove the garbage and used coffee cups, straighten the magazines/chairs and pick up the scattered toys.

Cleanliness and neatness doesn’t cost more than a little effort and don’t your patients deserve that?

Prior to your patients getting into the treatment room to meet you, they have already formed an impression of your office. If it is a good one, you get bonus points before the patient even sees you. If not, you have to work extra hard to turn that negative first impression around or lose that patient altogether. Why start off on a bad foot? First, make sure you place the right staff in the right job (an accommodating, friendly voice on your phone and a warm, smiling face at the front desk are imperative). Then listen to what patients have to say by taking a satisfaction survey. Remember that if you make the effort to ask, you should also make the effort to meet their needs.

In their shoes. Every one of us knows what it feels like to be a new patient. I believe that in order to really touch their souls (or soles) of new patients and win them over, we need to be able to walk in their shoes. What does it cost to keep new patients coming back? Very little. How does it feel knowing you’ve made them happy? Priceless.

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