Displaying Empathy and Enthusiasm in Your Medical Practice

September 27, 2012

Empathy and enthusiasm. Both should be present at your medical practice to boost patient and staff satisfaction.

Next in our lineup, we are discussing empathy and enthusiasm. These two words are major forces when converting your office from medical practice to a place well-known for its outstanding service and staff, as well as taking great medical care of their patients. After all, taking care of patients is more than diagnosing, treating, and prescribing, but should be a well-rounded, customer-centered activity.

A quick vocabulary review: Empathy is demonstrating an understanding of someone else's situation or feelings because you have been in a similar situation yourself. This is not to say that you have to personally be an overworked dad stuck in traffic and late for his appointment, only to get there and realize he doesn't have his wallet. But it means you can demonstrate a sincere understanding because you experienced in your past having not felt well, tired, stressed, and topped it all off with being a little late or forgetting your purse/wallet, or in some way can relate to his issue.

It is important to practice these in a medical practice because almost everyone there is facing something, even if it is as simple as a runny nose. If your staff and practitioners take the empathetic approach with the patients, it can put a patient at ease immediately. This is especially important when working to diffuse situations with an angry patients, or a patient that feels like he has been treated unfairly.

You can show empathy with your face and tone of your voice. If it is not sincere it will only escalate a situation. Using phrases sincerely such as:

• "That is awful; let me see how I can help."
• "I understand your frustration."
• "I would be upset if that happened to me."

It bears repeating to make sure you are sincere - otherwise, your empathy will not be effective.

Enthusiasm is equally if not more important than empathy. Enthusiasm of your staff and practitioners to be at your medical practice is one of the key factors that can make or break the energy in the clinic environment.

Enthusiasm can be palpable when you walk into the waiting room. Think about it for a minute (empathetically): Would you want to spend time (sometimes a significant amount of time) in an environment, especially when you are not 100 percent, where people are dreary and listless? It is as important for your patients as it is for your co-workers to be enthusiastic about your work, and more importantly be enthusiastic about your patients choosing you for their healthcare needs. If you sell ancillary products or services in your office, enthusiasm can mean the difference between making the sale and just capturing an office visit.

The great thing about enthusiasm is that it can be faked! And if you fake it long if enough, it becomes genuine. Patients instantly have a positive reaction to employees that are enthusiastic.

Here are some quick ways to show enthusiasm (which is even more important if you are a leader in the clinic):

• Smile. Always wear a smile, on the phone, when greeting patients, when wishing patients a great day as the leave, and while thanking them for payment.

• Encourage your office to perform random acts of kindness for each other and for the patients. An office I worked with used to take all of the charts that had +90 days balances due, and review their charts and their stories to determine whom to write off and whom to forward to collections.

• Sit up straight and make eye contact (just like your parents taught you).

• Approach patients and situations proactively. For example, don't wait until the patients are up at the desk complaining about the wait. Advise them as soon as you know there will be a longer wait.

• Demonstrate enthusiasm verbally by using phrases like: "I'd be happy to help you with that" and "I don't know that answer but I will help you find someone who does."

Enthusiasm and empathy go hand-in-hand, because they are both ways to demonstrate to your patients that you care. Enthusiasm can change the way some situations (such as running behind schedule) are perceived, add empathy regarding making the patients wait, and soon your patients will be wowed by your customer service.

And when patients are wowed it only means great things for you, your staff, and your business.

Find out more about Aubrey "Christie" McLaughlin and our other Practice Notes bloggers.