As patient satisfaction plays a growing role in physician reimbursement, make improving it a New Year’s resolution at your practice.
“The fact of the matter is that the majority of physicians haven’t yet acknowledged the importance of the patient experience ... most doctors still deep in their hearts believe that they are doing a fine job clinically, that they diagnose accurately, and prescribe appropriately, and that’s what patients want,” Meryl Luallin, a partner at California-based medical practice consulting firm SullivanLuallin Group and a medical practice shadow coach, recently told Physicians Practice.
But patients want more than that, she said. They want a positive experience when they visit their practice and a good relationship with their doctors.
Here are some simple ways physicians and medical practices can improve the patient experience at their practices and boost those patient satisfaction scores.
1. Reframe Responses. “The first thing — and this is something that’s so easy but doctors are not focused on — is how they respond to patients when patients come in and tell their story,” said Luallin, who has also spent time as a mystery patient. “If I go in and say, ‘I have a terrible time sleeping and I can’t get a full night’s sleep — I wake up in the morning exhausted.’ The doctor will say, ‘When did this start, what do you do for it now?’”
Instead, he should take a few seconds to sympathize and empathize before getting into the bigger questions, said Luallin. She suggested saying something like, “Oh, I’m sorry to hear that, that’s got to be tough.”
2. Address appropriately. The second thing physicians can do is address every patient by name, said Luallin, noting that physicians often greet their patients by saying something like, “Hey, how have you been?” Or, “What brings you in today?”
“They rarely use the patient’s name, and yet, using the patient’s name implies the connection with the doctor and the patient feels more cared about,” she said.
3. Acknowledge new patients. Make sure your receptionist is very welcoming when someone comes to your practice for the first time. The same goes for physicians, said Luallin, noting that they should welcome new patients to the practice and, of course, greet them by name when in the exam room. “That’s when a patient is forming a lasting impression of the practice so make a big deal out of a new patient, make them feel special,” she said.
4. Be upfront. While no patient likes a long wait in the reception area, it’s how the wait is handled that really affects patient satisfaction, said Luallin.
A friendly greeting from the receptionist, an alert that the doctor is running behind, an apology for the inconvenience, and continual updates regarding the wait time can go a long way toward easing patient frustration, she said.
5. Don’t room too soon. If you anticipate that the patient will have a long wait once he’s placed in the exam room, consider having him wait for a longer period in the reception area, said Luallin.
That’s because once you room the patient, they expect to see the physician quickly. The longer that doesn’t happen, the more frustrated they get. In addition, “In the reception area, at least [the patient] can get up and walk around, ask the receptionist what’s going on, how much longer, etc.,” said Luallin.
6. Provide updates. If a patient is in an exam room waiting to be seen, be sure to check up on him frequently, said Luallin.
“The doctor needs to have an understanding with the nurse or the medical assistant that every 15 minutes or more often, the nurse should knock at the door; peek in and say, ‘Dr. Jones has asked me to let you know we haven’t forgotten you, he’s still with another patient, he’ll be in as soon as he can, is there anything I can do to make you comfortable while you wait?’” said Luallin. “This makes the doctor come across as sensitive to the patient’s needs.”
What easy patient satisfaction improvement methods have worked at your practice? Share them below.