Five Tips for Making a Dynamic First Impression on Your Patients

March 14, 2014

In the first 10 seconds to 30 seconds of a patient's visit, you can make a big difference in their satisfaction with your medical practice.

First impressions are not only important - they're critical. How we present ourselves both verbally and physically to patients heavily influences how their overall experience will be at the practice. From their initial interaction with front-desk staff to their first meeting with the physician, a patient who has an outstanding first impression is far more likely to report an overall positive experience at the practice.

Here are five important points on making sure your patients' first 10 seconds to 30 seconds in a practice are outstanding.

1. Front-desk staff greetings. Consider your front-desk staff to be the most critical in your practice. The manner in which they greet and receive patients sets the tone for the entire visit, their likelihood of returning, and their willingness to spread positive referrals. Patients should be greeted by name and with a smile upon entering. Front-desk staff should understand that their engagement with patients is mission critical, and that no task is more important than greeting patients warmly and authentically.

2. Warm vocal tone. Reinforce to all staff that tone of voice is vitally important. How they interact with patients is as critical as what they say to patients. Feel comfortable with coaching staff on using a tone that is warm, friendly, and approachable with patients, as patients hear the delivery of the words as much as they hear the words themselves. Make sure you're modeling the same appropriate delivery yourself (see tip #5).

3. Friendly body language and facial expression. Encourage staff to maintain open body language with your patients. If culturally appropriate, a hand on a patient's shoulder may be reassuring and appropriate. Encourage staff to lean in toward patients while engaging and avoid closed body language.

Similarly, facial expressions are as important as the words being spoken. We often coach clients around the theme "affect must match the message;" in other words, a smile goes a long way in terms of helping a patient feel supported and welcomed. Make sure that staff understand the particular importance of using these skills during the first few moments of interacting with a patient.

4. Eliminate distractions. Nothing makes a patient feel as devalued as having to wait while a staff member chats with a colleague or, worse, finishes taking a sip of coffee before greeting. Again, reinforce to staff that nothing is more critical than openly and warmly greeting a patient upon arrival. The more welcomed a patient feels in the first 10 seconds to 30 seconds, the more successful their entire visit is likely to be.

5. Walk the walk. Make certain that you're modeling the same level of outstanding initial interactions with patients that you're asking of your staff. Greet patients by name, and make an effort to personally connect immediately. Avoid looking at a chart or appearing distracted upon greeting a patient. Giving patients your full attention during the first few moments will make a tremendous difference in their entire visit experience.