Five Etiquette Tips for Physicians and Medical Staff

November 28, 2012
Aubrey Westgate

Good manners may be the difference between a highly satisfied patient and a disgruntled, lawsuit-prone nightmare. Here are some tips.

When dealing with declining reimbursement, increasing overhead, healthcare reform, meaningful use, the list goes on and on, it’s easy to let the small stuff slide - like your manners.

Don’t. Proper etiquette may be the difference between a highly satisfied patient and a disgruntled, lawsuit-prone nightmare.

“Employing good manners and knowing the proper rules of etiquette in the business arena/medical arena really can make a difference in how you are perceived by the patients,” Karen Hickman, an etiquette protocol consultant who trains healthcare staff and physicians throughout the country, recently told Physicians Practice. “It lets them know that you value them, and that your office and your staff is happy to have their business.”

Here are five etiquette mistakes to avoid:1. Letting time crunches stifle good manners: “There are often complaints that physicians don’t give the patient enough time, or the patient doesn’t perceive that they are giving them enough time,” said Hickman, adding that patients also complain that physicians are not good listeners and that they fail to give them their full attention.

While elongating patient visits is not an option for many of you, there are some simple ways to make patients feel more valued. “One of the things that a physician can do is sit down and face the patient head on,” said Hickman, noting that this sends the message that you are paying close attention and giving the patient quality attention.

If an appointment is running long, be gracious about concluding it. Excuse yourself, ask, “Do you have any more questions for me at this time?” and if the patient does not, tell him the nurse will finish up with the details, said Hickman.

2. Forgetting to meet and greet: “Staff members often don’t meet and greet the patients when they first walk in the front door,” said Hickman. They should greet everyone with a friendly attitude - and that attitude should continue throughout the patient’s visit.

For instance, “Staff members have to remember to pause when they get a patient into the [exam] room, introduce themselves to the patient, let them know who they are, what their position is there, and then also inform them of all the procedures or the steps that they’re going to go through before the physician comes into the room,” she said.

3. Getting sloppy: “Pay attention to what your staff looks like because that’s a visual first impression, and it really makes a big impact on patients when they walk in the door,” said Hickman. In fact, she said, “That’s a common complaint that I hear from the public when they know that I train medical people - that they don’t look very professional these days.”

Consider asking staff to wear similar-colored scrubs on certain days of the week. That “creates a sense of solidarity among coworkers, but it also gives that perception [of solidarity] to the patient when they come in,” she said.

4. Underestimating the importance of training: “I don’t think there’s enough emphasis on training in customer/patient services,” said Hickman, noting that staff members should receive 10 hours to 12 hours of training in soft skills and customer service when initially hired, and about an hour or two of refresher training each month.

“A good customer service and patient service doesn’t happen by accident, it happens by design, and it happens because you invest the time to train the staff, and then you continually train and revisit troubled spots and make that a priority for your practice,” she said.

5. Strained staff relations: “Patients do note whether an office has a good attitude toward one another,” said Hickman, noting that proper etiquette between staff members is just as important as good manners between staff members and patients.

“I think it is very important that [staff members] support each other, that they manage each other up, and not complain about each other in front of patients,” she said. “I don’t think a patient should ever hear complaints about a work environment coming from staff.”