Making your medical practice easy to do business with will differentiate it from others, establish a competitive advantage, and make it highly appealing to patients. Here are some of the many ways that physicians can make it happen.
1. Create convenient hours
Many people have workloads or requirements that limit their availability for doctors' appointments during the traditional 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. work day. To accommodate this population, many physicians have office hours beginning at 6 a.m. or 6:30 a.m. to accommodate "early risers" on their way to work, or those coming off night. Others have evening hours ending at 8 p.m., 9 p.m., or 10 p.m. to accommodate commuters and others for whom daytime appointments are inconvenient or impossible.
There are also pediatric practices that are open from 5p.m. to 5a.m. The premise is that the need for healthcare services often occurs after doctors' offices are closed —necessitating a costly trip to the emergency room or a night of worry waiting until doctor's office reopens.
"Availability" for a target population that needs the convenience of extended hours, is a strategy that works.
2. Increase phone availability
Many practices have telephone access only from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and are "closed" for lunch. This makes no sense if early morning callers are working men and women who do not want, or are unable, to call from work. Others prefer not to have their coworkers overhear their medical problems (or birth date when asked for it) or may not have access to a phone at work. For similar reasons, some patients may prefer to call you during their lunch break or at the end of their workday after 5 p.m. New-patient callers (with any of the above restrictions) are not likely to call back.
Recommendation: Have an employee available to answer the phones approximately one hour before the office opens, one hour after it closes, and during the hour your office might be closed for lunch. The calls that you might otherwise miss (and the goodwill you'll generate by being available) will be worth it.
3. Use electronic health records
Utilize EHRs to reduce the need for patients to fill out the same forms at each office visit, provide electronic referrals allowing easier access to follow-up care with specialists, and have the convenience of e-prescriptions electronically sent to patients' pharmacies, among other benefits.
4. Establish a Web portal
Provide an easy-to-use Web portal so patients can schedule, reschedule, or if necessary, cancel appointments, and access and print health history forms that can be filled out prior to coming to the office. A portal will also allow your practice to view and update patients' contact, insurance, and other personal information. Patients can also make electronic payments, request prescription refills, receive test results, and exchange secure messages with doctors about lab-test results (eliminating telephone tag).
To make these interactions even more convenient, give patients the freedom to connect to your practice from their smartphones via a mobile app.
Recommendation: Make sure your website is HIPAA compliant and as secure as possible.
5. Provide Wi-Fi
Provide Wi-Fi, it's a nice extra. Patients can then use their smartphones, iPads, laptops, etc., while waiting. It doesn't eliminate the inconvenience of long waits but it does make them more tolerable.
The great jazz pianist and composer Fats Waller knew about being easy to do business with. He said, "Find out what people want, and how they want it, and then give it to them just that way." He was spot on.
Bob Levoy is the author of seven books and hundreds of articles on human resource and practice management topics. His newest book is "222 Secrets of Hiring, Managing and Retaining Great Employees in Healthcare Practices" published by Jones & Bartlett. He can be reached at [email protected].