A Charmed Practice

October 9, 2008
Judy Capko

To keep your cool and make your days go smoother, change your approach and turn on the charm.

Geez, it’s hard to stay cheerful these days; worries about the economy and shrinking retirement accounts have worn everyone’s patience thin. And some of your patients are just so difficult. Still, diplomacy needs to stay right up there at the top of your list, as both you and your patients will be a whole lot happier for it.

To keep your cool and make your days go smoother, change your approach and turn on the charm. Try not to take bad manners personally; often, a rude patient is simply scared. Step back, take a deep breath, and present a professional but friendly demeanor to provide the reassurance he needs. Too often when a patient makes a sarcastic response he is met with silence. It is better to let the patient know you understand his concerns. Here’s a perfect example:

Mr. Weekly comes into the office and snaps at your receptionist, “I hope I’m not going to sit here an hour before I’m seen, like I did last time!” Greeting this patient with platitudes won’t offer any reassurance. Have her try this instead: “Mr. Weekly, I’m so sorry you had to wait last time. We work hard to see our patients on time. I’ll check to see how long the wait might be.” Once she has checked on the wait, have her give him an estimate and ask if there's anything she can do to make him more comfortable. Her concern will go a long way to calming him down if she takes the time to thank him for his patience or ask about his family.

Paying attention to your patient’s demeanor as you room her, is important as well. If Miss Daisy seems agitated or preoccupied you might say “Miss Daisy is there something on your mind today -- perhaps there’s something I can help you with?” I remember dealing with a patient who was simply upset about getting on the scale, as she knew she had gained weight since her last visit. Being understanding and empathic in such situations goes a long way in calming an anxious patient.

Maybe your new patient is seeking reassurance that she made the right choice in selecting your practice. If you assure Mrs. New that she is in good hands, you are likely to see an immediate shift in her posture, as she feels a sense of relief and her anxiety diminishes.

Everyone in your practice needs to participate in making patients feel a part of your extended family. Train your staff in people skills: Make eye contact when passing patients in the hallway and say hello. If a patient has a puzzled look on her face when looking for the X-ray department or the restroom, offer help.

Try not to get so tied up in your responsibilities and the hectic environment of a busy medical office that you fail to connect with your patients. After all, you are in the people business -- so smile along the way!

Judy Capko is a healthcare consultant, speaker and author of the popular books; Secrets of the Best Run Practices, 2006 and Take Back Time, 2008. Her focus is practice operations and strategic planning. She is a popular speaker and national and regional conferences. Judy is the owner of Capko & Company, www.capko.com, based in Thousand Oaks, Calif. and can be reached at (805) 499-9203 or judy@capko.com.