In previous years, patient satisfaction discussions pertained only to patient surveys and results. Some managers believe surveys are utilized by specialties, such as plastic surgery practices that primarily operate on a cash basis. However, consumerism is here to stay! Cost and quality will create a level playing field in health care and increase the importance of patient satisfaction. When working with a practice, I love to sit in the waiting room to see operations from the patient’s point of view. I also search the specialty online to review the competition and the effectiveness of the practice’s website. During my research, I may also see online reviews, which speak directly to the patient experience.
Every business is a function of its people. Choosing the right people, training them continually and providing ongoing communication is essential to creating an exceptional patient experience. A successful practice has an established culture through a mission statement that is expressed each day through the actions of the physicians, managers and staff. Loyalty and profitability follow when an organization makes a promise to a customer and delivers on the promise over, and over again.
As an administrator, I begin with a good job description and then hire the person with the desired behaviors and skills to perform the task or job. A consistent training program is a key to success, it is not simply assigning a new staff to another employee for training. The staff training should occur through various methods with a supervisor or mentor. Once training is complete, the employee’s performance is validated before they are released to perform the task unsupervised.
Patient satisfaction surveys focus on each aspect of the patient’s visit to assure each person is delivering great service and managing their responsibilities to complete the assigned tasks. Medical staff may be highly trained on a specific clinical task, but a customer service attitude is essential when dealing with patients. Defining a plan to act quickly on feedback from a patient survey is essential to mitigate a problem.
You cannot prevent all problems, but the way you handle a problem can salvage a relationship. Establish key behaviors for staff to protect the patient relationship. If you hired people with a genuine heart for service in a medical practice, a problem may arise but the commitment to patient satisfaction should preserve the patient relationship.
Technology is rapidly improving. We have the tools to measure every activity in our practice to ensure the patient experience is exceptional. Phone systems have the capability to measure abandoned calls, length of time on hold, and the number of calls going to voicemail. Our practice management systems include reports and options to monitor first available appointments, percent of patients utilizing the patient portal and patient flow.
There are many tools to promote better patient engagement, including online registration to eliminate paperwork or automated appointment reminders using text, email or call. The patient portal, if promoted and correctly utilized, can reduce phone calls and improve the patient experience. The portal allows for ongoing communication, as opposed to hours waiting by the phone only to miss the call, which increases the call volume. The portal gives the patient access to information to share with other providers.
The development of defined processes and policies is essential to effective training. If the policies are ineffective, or if management does not enforce the policies, then the patient experience is affected. Patients who have an exceptional experience will tell a few people. If they have a poor experience, they may tell the story over and over again.
If your practice relies on referrals from other physician practices, do not underestimate the power of the referring office. The referring provider can send patients elsewhere if the patient is not satisfied with your practice. You should be able to identify the top 20 referring physicians and track the volume of referrals to assure it is consistent. The manager should contact the manager of the referring practice to assure needs are being met and the feedback is good.
It is important to know what makes your practice thrive. It is comprised of multiple factors, including good physicians and loyal employees, which lead to strong referring relationships. A medical practice exists for the patients, so what is patient satisfaction worth? EVERYTHING!
Article contributed by Tammie Lunceford, Healthcare and Dental Consultant, Warren Averett Healthcare Consulting Group. Warren Averett is an official partner with the Medical Association.