Expert tips to create a concierge-style patient experience

With consumer-driven business models running the show, your existing call-handling systems and protocols are likely not contributing to the patient loyalty you need for a thriving practice.

Do you still think of your medical call center as a necessary evil? You’re not alone. Without visibility to the levers that could improve cost efficiency, most practices consider their call centers primarily as a cost center. But in healthcare’s current landscape, where patients view practices through the lens of a consumer, your call center should function as a true value addition.

With consumer-driven business models running the show, your existing call-handling systems and protocols are likely not contributing to the patient loyalty you need for a thriving practice. Ask yourself if the following sounds a little too much like your patients’ experience.

Please Hold

There she stands. A long-time patient of your practice. With a list of friends and relatives that hang on her every word. You’ve just started to review her information to get her ready for the procedure she has scheduled for today.

And then the phone rings.

Even if you wouldn’t consider telling her, “Excuse me just a minute while I answer that,” you are now distracted. You know it. And she knows it.

To compound the problem, that call is from one of your practice’s VIPs. Perhaps a school athletic director needing to schedule pre-season checkups for her 20-member team. Or a member of your practice’s board of directors. But you’ll never know because that call went to voicemail.

This is not the concierge-style experience your patients expect.

Walking the Tightrope

If your practice is like most, staff members are constantly balancing the needs of callers with those of the patients standing in front of them. The experience of callers outside the practice walls is just as important as what happens face to face. Many negative Google and Healthgrades reviews have more to do with a poor experience on the phone than the level of care they received. The question is, “how do I ensure that patients on both sides of the wall receive a concierge experience?”

Do This, Not That

Practices often miss the mark on customer service for several reasons. On the people side, a lack of customer service training, poor documentation of previous patient communications, and a lack of clearly stated departmental roles and responsibilities contribute to errors. Combining that with systems that can’t audit patient communications, outdated hardware that’s vulnerable to outages, EHR software that doesn’t track communications, and reliance on voicemail makes it difficult for your team to ensure they are providing the patient experience you intended.

Take a look at a few best practices for overcoming these problems and making patient-pleasing service happen:

  • Ensure calls are being handled by well-trained staff members that are not also responsible for in-person patients who are at the clinic.
  • Document every patient interaction in your EHR for reference in future interactions.
  • Dig deep for effective ways to replace voicemail with patient-friendly alternatives.
  • Implement a best in class patient engagement solution that offers features such as:
    • Caller ID recognition and priority routing.
    • Voice AI for call routing.
    • Queue callback rather than waiting on hold.
    • Multiple communications channels such as text and webchat in addition to calling.

While too many communications options can lead to frustration and confusion for patients, too few options mean more callers just press 0 and wait for someone to talk to. This often results in callers that just hang up or disappear down the voicemail tunnel.

Regardless of the combination of protocols and technology your practice chooses, make sure the mix is focused on making it easy for patients to interact with you.

Rising to the Challenge

Your practice is becoming a mix of existing and new patients with one thing in common: they’ve all been charmed by the bells and whistles of consumer businesses. And the better job those companies do of delivering superstar customer experiences, the higher the bar is set for your practice. Investing in the kind of access patients expect can no longer be considered a sunk cost. High functioning patient engagement solutions, layered with great technology, help create the memorable patient experiences that encourage the loyalty and referrals you need to drive profitability.

About the Author

Jeff Mock is the executive director of PatientSync.