Without patients there is no need for physicians. Patients, sadly called 'consumers', have a changing place in the healthcare paradigm. Many are energized, some are frightened and some are angry. If you understand and respond to your patients' needs, from their perspective as well as your own, you can engage in a new and invigorating partnership that will bring joy back to your professional life, improved health to your patients and cash to your coffers.
The most effective way to find out what your patients need is to ask them. Train your front desk staff to ask, on the way in or the way out, what the patient liked about their visit, and what they hoped had gone differently. Listen to, track and record all feedback - positive or negative. Hold an office meeting and ask your staff what they think patients would like to see and why. Consider a patient survey - you can do this on paper or on line (survey monkey is a free tool). Create a patient/provider satisfaction team and empower the team members to try new things and track results. Simple cost effective strategies to improve efficiency and patient experience include:
1) Fix your schedule!! If patients wait frequently, your scheduling is not appropriate. Do away with the mindset that it is ok for patients to wait for you. It isn't. Find ways to make your schedule work better. You will need to understand the flow in your office and respond to it. This takes work but the rewards are well worth it. The project is almost free.
2) Be there for your patients. If you are distracted, ill prepared or inattentive, patients know this, and they mind. Ask yourself, am I prepared to deliver the best possible care as I walk into this room? If the answer is no, pause and regroup. Consider creating teams in the office to help you with this by checking chart completion, availability of studies, and any pertinent communication. If you are often unavailable to patients, figure out why and fix it.
3) Update the look of your office. Consider offering wall space for local artists or students to exhibit their work. Tidying up may be all that is needed. Remove those notes stuck up everywhere. Patients do notice environmental changes and appreciate the effort.
4) Consider providing water/drinks to waiting patients as appropriate.
5) Update the magazines regularly or provide useful patient education material. Consider washable toys or reading material if your patients tend to bring children.
6) Do not discourage patients from bringing friends or family - accommodate those needs and those people may translate into new patients or referrals.
7) Consider providing a courtesy phone or internet portal(s) in the waiting area.
8) Make your waiting room comfortable but not designed as a place where people will be for a long time. The idea is to move people in and out and minimize their waiting (wasted) time.
9) Assist patients with insurance and other referral problems proactively - you will end up helping anyway. By offering and controlling the process, you save time and please your patients.
10) Develop your staff's skills - increasing your expectation of them, with appropriate support to learn new skills, will enhance their performance, longevity, and your practice's success.
When doctors reaffirm the value of patients to them, patients tend to return the favor and everybody wins.