Think about spending the day at a theme park. You’re about to get on a popular ride and the sign at the front tells you to expect a 60-minute wait in line. After only 40 minutes, you find yourself in the front of the line. How do you feel? Most of us will say “that line wasn’t so bad” even though it was still pretty long.
How would you feel if the wait ended up being 75 minutes? You would probably be pretty upset. In fact, theme parks routinely overestimate wait times to ensure that their guests are happy with their experience.
Managing a podiatric practice is not so different. Every day, we are interacting with patients about a wide range of conditions and are constantly setting patients’ expectations. How you set and manage these expectations plays a tremendous role on how your patients perceive you, your team and your practice.
Patients will compare their experience in our office to experiences they have at other offices. Believe it or not, they will also compare their experience to the service they receive at retail stores, restaurants and even theme parks. You may think there is no correlation but in today’s environment, a medical office is just another situation in which customer service reigns. How do we compete with the service and efficiency provided by the Apple Store, Starbucks or Disney World? Fortunately, since most medical practices do not consider customer service a priority, it won’t take much to stand out.
In the customer service world, there is a saying to “under-promise and over-deliver.” Whether it is the time it takes for our patients to receive a pair of custom orthoses or the time it takes us to delineate a postoperative course, we directly set those expectations. Just like the line at the theme park, if we promise the orthotic will be in the office in two weeks but it takes three weeks, you have an unhappy patient who was expecting to have the orthotics in hand. Be sure to be realistic with the timeframes you discuss with your patient.
Being Proactive In Contacting Patients
Most have been in a situation with our own physicians in which we are waiting for lab results. You hear you will get a call within one week with the results. One of two things happens at this point. You may get a call within the week and you are satisfied that your expectations have been met. Alternately, a week or more passes, and you get annoyed that nobody has called you yet. You may even need to call the office for results.
Let’s turn the tables and look at our own practices. Are we good at contacting patients with results? Do our patients have to call the office to follow up or is our staff good at staying on top of things? How do patients perceive your practice when it comes to follow-up? Most importantly, from a practice management standpoint, will those patients be likely to refer their friends and relatives to your practice?
Don’t think that surgery is exempt from the need to set expectations. Whether it is a routine hammertoe or a rearfoot fusion, your patient is going to be very apprehensive. The more information you provide to your patient about the experience surrounding surgery as well as the procedure itself, the better you’ll be able to help mitigate some of the patient’s apprehension. Whether you facilitate the preoperative discussion or have your assistant do so, it is worthwhile to walk patients through what to expect on the day of surgery from the time they arrive to when they go home. This is a simple and short conversation to have and you can supplement this with written material for your patient to review at home. You know you are successful when your patient returns for the first post-op visit and tells you that everything went exactly as explained.
Why A Post-Op Follow-Up Call Can Make A Difference
Another powerful tool to enhance our patients’ experience is the telephone. Calling our postoperative patients that afternoon to check in is something that many practitioners do already. However, we can do more. Calling your new patients each day will certainly exceed expectations. Have you ever had a doctor call you like that? This is a simple activity that does not take very long to do.
Each evening after office hours, give your new patients from that morning a call. You can call the new patients you see in the afternoon the following day. It is a simple call to thank them for coming in and asking if they have any further questions. Very often, you will just leave a message on voicemail. Even when you connect with a patient, it is a reasonably short phone call.
Many doctors will say they do not have time to make these calls. We cannot underestimate the “wow” factor of these calls. In fact, calling a patient who may be on the fence about a treatment plan often makes the patient a believer who will proceed with your treatment. When patients get this call, they perceive that you genuinely care about the patient’s well-being. The call breaks down barriers and gives unsure patients confidence in you.
Making Sure The Waiting Room Is Not For Waiting
Another common complaint when visiting a doctor’s office is the length of time the patient waits to see the doctor. Of course, there are unexpected situations and emergencies that may throw you off schedule. Unfortunately, many doctors have gotten in the habit of running habitually late.
Something as simple as managing your schedule to honor appointments and respecting your patient’s time has also become something that will exceed a patient’s expectations. You know how long a particular appointment takes. You know how much time is required for a given procedure. You know when you can double-book without a problem. Being flexible with your schedule times and doing your best to prevent your patients from waiting past their appointment times will get you a fantastic reputation with your patients.
The sky is the limit when it comes to exceeding the expectations of your patients. It may be a birthday card signed by you and your team. It could be a handwritten note for congratulations or sympathy. It may even be an apology if you are running late or if there is an unforeseen problem during a patient visit. These unexpected communications will impress your patients who simply are not used to being treated in such a way by a doctor’s office.
So now it is up to you. What one thing can you implement to exceed your patients’ expectations? Just a small investment of time (not money) will pay dividends in how your patients view you and your office. Just getting patients better is not enough for them to remember you. Patients will remember and refer to doctors whom they like and treat them well.
Dr. Schneider serves on the Board of Trustees of the American Academy of Podiatric Practice Management. He is the Medical Director of Tanglewood Foot Specialists in Houston.