Amid the stresses of running a medical practice, it’s sometimes hard to remember the reasons you went into medicine, let alone expend the extra energy to keep your patients happy. But keeping your patients smiling is good for your wallet and your psyche. Happy patients keep coming back and will recommend you to friends and family, and don’t underestimate the power that cheerful patients have to make your day and the atmosphere of your office more pleasant.
The good news is that you don’t have to don a clown suit to make them smile. Mostly it comes down to respecting your patients as people with names and schedules and worries. Here are seven small but mighty ways you can make your patients happy they chose your practice:
1. Be on time.
Nothing makes patients feel more frustrated than still being in your waiting room 30 minutes after their appointment time or spending 15 extra minutes waiting in a thin gown in an exam room. Feeling like you respect their time by keeping on schedule is sure to please your patients. Plus, for you and your staff, it relieves the stress of constantly apologizing to irritated patients for your lateness.
2. Enter the exam room prepared.
It is comforting for patients to feel like they are not a number, that they will be heard and cared for. That comfort is lost when you come into the exam room and have to look in the chart or laptop for the patient’s name and reason for the visit. Take that extra minute before you walk into the exam room to review the chart so you can greet the patient by name and show awareness of his symptoms.
3. Follow-up and communicate.
If your patient has had lab work or testing, was referred to a specialist, or presented with significant symptoms, make time to call her to follow up. See how she’s doing and report on any lab or test results. This helps patients feel secure that your practice is concerned about their health and didn’t forget them as soon as they left the office. Your staff can help with follow-up calls as well.
4. Offer a little reassurance.
Perhaps your patient has just received her diagnosis and is armed with a slew of questions and confusions about her condition. It can feel lonely and overwhelming. Take a minute to acknowledge that and reassure her that she’s not alone. Remind her that you and she are a team, and together you can work to find the right treatment options.
5. Don’t forget the small talk.
If you’re running behind schedule, you may be tempted to rush through a visit, but don’t telegraph that desire to your patients. Take a few minutes to chat with each patient. Try breaking the ice with chitchat about the weather, the holidays, his family — something other than the information in the chart. The exchange will put your patient at ease, and he will surely appreciate the friendly — and human — approach.
6. Give your waiting room some TLC.
Ever taken a good hard look at your waiting room? It might be worth adding a few extra touches to bring a smile to your patients’ faces. Consider adding a kids’ corner stocked with games, toys, and books. Update your magazines. Add a live plant or two. It’s also a nice gesture to have a couple dispensers of anti-bacterial gel available, especially around flu season.
7. Set a friendly tone.
Treating your staff with kindness will encourage them to do the same with each other and with patients. Dole out the smiles and friendly gestures to set a tone for the office. Have front desk staff greet patients upon arrival, as well as maintain politeness and patience over the phone. Smiles from you and your staff will reap smiles from your patients and keep them coming back.
Abigail Beckel is managing editor for Physicians Practice. She can be reached at [email protected].
Sara Michael is an associate editor for Physicians Practice. She can be reached at [email protected].
This article originally appeared in the February 2010 issue of Physicians Practice.