Five Easy Ways to Make Your Medical Practice More Patient Friendly

July 13, 2014

Take the time to sit in your medical practice waiting room and exam rooms and look at them from a patient’s point of view. You will be glad you did.

I had a curious experience last summer. My daughter was getting her college physical at my practice (incidentally her last one as she is now 20 and has aged out of pediatrics) and when I entered the exam room with her, I got to sit in the chair provided for the parents and not on my usual rolling stool (the doctor’s chair).

Since my daughter had been living with her dad in England for many years, it had been a while since I got to be the mom and not the doctor. And since moving to the office space, I had never once sat in an exam room chair except on the rolling stool.

Sitting in the "parent" chair got me thinking about some things. What does my office look like to patients and their parents? Does it look clean? Do they feel comfortable?

Patients do not come to see me because I have a glamorous office. They come to our practice because we give them excellent pediatric care. However, it is important to have a professional appearance, both in our dress as well as our surroundings.

Here are some points to consider to ensure your patients are getting the best impression of your practice:

1. Take a look at your exam rooms and waiting area. REALLY look! See if they look clean to you. For most offices, the cleaning is part of the rent and the cleaners provided do the bare minimum. We have started carving out the cleaning so that we can hire our own crew and they do a much better job. However, if you cannot do this, consider hiring a crew to come in once or twice a month to do the deep cleaning. Have them clean the windows and the blinds. Make sure that your carpet and floors are cleaned regularly and well, and remove scuff marks from walls and moldings.

2. Take the opportunity to listen to how your staff treats patients, both as they enter and leave the office. You can be innocently at the front desk area copying something or appear to be finishing a note while you listen to the nursing staff. Are they polite? Are they listening to what the patients are really saying? When you call the office line, do your receptionists answer appropriately and give their name? Even if your office is the only specialty in the area, make sure that patients feel respected when they deal with your office.

3. Take an honest appraisal of your décor. When was the last time you decorated the waiting and exam rooms? You could hire a decorator if you like but a few tweaks can have a major impact. A new color of paint can really revive things and is easy and relatively inexpensive. Take down any pictures that are faded and replace them with new ones. Remove any furniture that is torn or severely scratched. If you have carpet, replace it if it is snagged or extremely dirty.
In our office, I am very conscious of not decorating in “baby décor” in order to not infantilize my patients or parents. I want everything to be appropriate for all ages, from toddlers up to college age.

Above all, restrain from taping paper signs to the front window and in the exam rooms. This becomes a sort of wallpaper and patients stop reading them if there are many. Consider framing important messages or use a photo frame with a slideshow of messages interspersed with photos of staff or even pretty pictures. This is much more effective and eye catching.

4. Assess your exam rooms. Do you have all the necessary supplies available? Does the counter look neat and tidy? Purchase organizing cabinets and containers and get as much off the counter as possible.

5. Consider how your staff is dressed. Our nurses wear pediatric-friendly scrubs and the front-desk staff members wear street clothes. We allow jeans on Fridays as long as they are not torn or ragged and ask staff to wear practice logo shirts we by them annually.

My dentist has the most impressive office dress I have seen. Every day the staff wears color-coordinated scrubs or outfits, including the office manager. It is a super professional look. I haven’t asked whether the office provides these or staff members are expected to order their own. You could easily start something similar by buying each of your staff members their first set of scrubs, and then partially subsidizing the rest of the week’s outfits. Bulk ordering gets you the best deals anyway.

Take the time to sit in your waiting room and in the exam rooms and look at them from a patient’s point of view. You will be glad you did.