Create a Great First Impression at Your Medical Practice

August 9, 2014

A poor first impression will diminish patient confidence, lower patient volume, and reduce your brand value. Here are some simple ways to start off on the right foot.

A first impression means a lot to all of us. I remember the first time I met my wife, the first time I met Steven Tyler of Aerosmith, and the first time I reviewed our first home.

One of my physicians is an allergist and I love him as a person, but first impressions are not his strong suit. Any time I visit his office, it appears as if a hurricane hit it. Often, papers are strewn over the couches and chairs, the tissue boxes are in disarray, and little subscription cards from magazines have fallen onto the floor. Not a great image for a first or returning patient.

I also recall a visit to an otorhinolaryngologist's office where patient files were stacked so high on the front desk that I could not see the receptionist, who also failed to greet me and provide the appropriate new patient paperwork for several minutes.

When I finally went back to the treatment room, a nurse, whose name I still do not know five years later, evaluated me and then said, “I’ll be right back.” She exited; a tall gentleman with a lab coat walked in, never said a word, and placed a rubber tube in my nostril for a look see. Interesting - he was the doctor!

In his seminal work, "The Practice of Management," management guru Peter Drucker proclaimed, “The reason for the business - is the customer.” I read this in 1988 and it has stuck with me since. Doctors must adhere to the same principle: patients first. And, they cannot just say it; this must become part of practice culture. So many hospitals, clinics, and physician practices make these bold statements yet they rarely mean it.

Putting patients first starts with your practice's front desk. While admittedly, this area requires some sterilization due to issues related to patient confidentiality, there are too many times when staff is fascinatingly engaged in conversation and patients are left to wait until the conversation is finished. This is inappropriate. Doctors and staff must immediately acknowledge patients, which means as soon as they arrive and even via telephone. No excuses, all phones must be answered by the second ring.

Unless it is absolutely necessary, kill the sliding glass window at the front desk. Staff should see patients walking in and they must acknowledge them by first name at entry. The familiarity, the warm acceptance and collegiality will make the patient experience stellar.

Also, take a good look at both the waiting room and the treatment rooms. Ensure that they look as orderly as you desire. If your practice wants to emulate “The Ritz” experience then you must ensure that the office looks like The Ritz.
Order and systems ensure that patients will enjoy being in your care because you care about them. And, once you are certain that the changes you’ve made seem appropriate, hire someone to mystery shop your practice. You need someone to walk the experience to ensure all you have changed works.

To charge the fees you do means you need to show that you are worth it and worth the value that people pay for. When your office looks similar to a junkyard you have a difficult road. A poor first impression will diminish patient confidence, lower patient volume, and reduce your brand value and overall patient experience. And, don't forget that unhappy patients sometimes voice their discontent online. When new patients seek you out, they often use Google to gauge your reputation. Don’t allow a bad experience to ensure a bad practice.

In my next blog I will discuss the importance of reputation management since what you say, how you and your staff acts, and what your practice looks like, will likely be discussed and shared on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, you name it.