There is one thing that the most successful practices have in common: a group of engaged patients who enthusiastically talk about their experiences among friends, family and social networks. While that is the ultimate goal, you may be wondering how to get there.
What if changing just a few things about your practice could lead to attracting more patients and having those patients advertise for you once they walk out of your office?
We’re going to outline some simple ways to continue growing your practice—not through active marketing in the traditional sense, but through strengthening your relationships with existing patients.
1) It all starts with the patient experience, which typically begins with a phone call. The person who answers the phone can make or break a new patient relationship, so they must be patient, caring and kind.
If you are unsure of how this person is doing in their role, take a look at patient survey comments, Yelp reviews and consider any staff member conflicts involving that person.
Retraining is fine if necessary, but please do feel comfortable reassigning anyone who lacks positive communication skills. How the person on the phone represents your practice in every interaction is a key component of patient retention and referrals.
2) Nail the first impression. Friendly acknowledgment upon entering the office sets the stage for the rest of the visit. Do staff members say hello? If so, are they warm and genuine? Overwhelm is bound to occur from time to time, but these feelings must never show. Patients must always feel welcome and staff should be trained to do whatever it takes to help both new and existing patients understand the processes of being seen for treatment (payment, copays, online paperwork, etc.).
3) Communicate in the spirit of service. A patient must never feel as if they are a source of irritation for office staff. With that said, train your staff members to respond to patient requests with a friendly, “It’s my pleasure,” or “Absolutely!” instead of “Not a problem.” Changing these small verbal response habits can make a big difference in patient satisfaction.
4) Don’t keep them waiting. Patient surveys continue to show that long waits are among the biggest complaints, especially long waits that involve clipboards and paperwork. Of course, there is no way that your practice can run on time, all the time, but there are ways to minimize delays in the first place.
Perhaps the best way to reduce waiting room times is by using an EMR with a robust patient portal where new and returning patients can fill out intake forms and health questionnaires online, prior to the appointment. Power2Practice, the EMR designed for Integrative, Anti-Aging and Functional Medicine comes preloaded with features such as these, plus online patient education, secure messaging and more.
5) Cleanliness and an organized presentation are important. The cleanliness of the waiting room and restroom are equally as important as the demeanor of the receptionist. It may sound too simple and perhaps a bit silly, but cleanliness and organization provides an accurate reflection of how a practice is managed behind the scenes!
6) Teach your staff to speak quietly. There is nothing more off-putting than when a patient hears medical staff talking loudly about patients from the waiting room. Aside from being unprofessional, it’s a huge HIPAA violation as well.
7) View complaints as gifts and address them quickly, with authenticity. Although uncomfortable in the moment, complaint resolution is one of the best ways to cement long-term relationships with patients. Ensure that patients know their wellbeing is of utmost importance to you and your staff, and let them be heard.
To ensure that staff is turning patient complaints into productive, positive interactions, follow these guidelines for patient acknowledgment:
- If the complaint occurs in person, find a quiet and comfortable place to speak with the patient. Sit down, make eye contact, and lean in toward the patient so that it is clear that they have your undivided attention.
- Either in person or over the phone, say something like, “I see [hear] how upset you are and I am very sorry. How can I help?”
- Let the patient tell their story and do not interrupt. Agree and acknowledge using friendly and receptive body language.
- Once you have a resolution in mind, say, “This is what I can do for you. . . Does that work?” After genuinely acknowledging the upset patient’s emotions and concerns, they will be able to think more clearly and will be more open to your ideas.
8) Maintain or build your online presence. Do you have a Yelp page? If so, how often do you check it? How are the reviews? Similar to in-person and over-the-phone complaints, online complaints give you an opportunity to demonstrate your professionalism and commitment to outstanding care.
Just as important as online reputation management is online reputation building! Train your office staff to invite online reviews at the end of a visit, or follow-up with an email using Power2Practice’s HIPAA-secure messaging system. A great thing to say is, “If you enjoyed your experience with [xyz] provider, we invite you to leave a review on Yelp or ZocDoc.”
9) Ask for it. As simple as it sounds, one of the best ways to gain referrals is to ask for them! Post a sign that says, “We love referrals!” and place postcards or business cards just below the sign, prominently, in a way that invites sharing.
10) Create the bandwidth for conscious relationship development. There are myriad ways to retain patients and generate referrals. Many of the suggestions above require little more than a few extra minutes of your time, yet can make a huge impact on practice development and reputation management.
If time is your biggest obstacle, consider implementing an EMR, such as Power2Practice, to streamline your most time-intensive administrative and clinical tasks while also boosting patient engagement and empowerment.