Likely, you’ve told your patients you care about them, and you really do. But are your actions backing up your words?
A 2007 study conducted by Consumer Reports revealed that patients complained most commonly about time -- they feel you don’t respect theirs! Nearly one in five patients objected to waiting too long in the office, and about 20 percent grumbled about having to wait more than a week to get an appointment. Other major time offenders included physicians spending too little time with patients, patients having to wait too long for test results, and the practice not responding promptly to patient telephone calls.
Strive to deliver on your promise to care as much and as actively as possible. Here are a few ways to honor patients’ time:
- Create your own report card to benchmark performance. Track patient flow in the office for a one-week period by selecting every fourth patient and recording the appointment time, arrival time, rooming time, and the actual time the physician goes into and out of the exam room. Note causes for unusual delays to better understand the root problems. If the average wait time inches past 15 minutes in either the reception room or exam room on a regular basis, you are not respecting your patients’ time!
- Imagine that you’re the patient. Set what you consider to be reasonable wait times when a patient:
- Waits for an appointment
- Waits in the office
- Spends time with the physician
- Waits for test results
- Waits for a response to your phone call
Barring unexpected events, stick to these time allotments as closely as possible.
- Schedule realistically. Wait times reflect how realistic your appointment schedule is and how well it is managed. If you double-book or if you don’t allow enough time for specific appointment types, both patient service and practice efficiency will suffer. Scheduling parameters must accommodate both the visit type and the expected needs of the visit. Surely, a new patient visit, an annual physical, or a special procedure will require more time than a routine established visit. Therefore, format your schedule according to actual time requirements. Consider scheduling in ten minute increments, as this offers more flexibility and can open up more appointment times, and eliminates the need for double-booking.
- Interact well with your patient during the exam. Time spent in the exam room is perceived differently by each patient. If you make good eye contact with your patient, repeat her name often, avoid interruptions, and answer all her questions, she will likely feel her needs were met during the exam, even if you were with her a bare 10 minutes. And hold off on putting your hand on the door knob until you have answered all your patient’s questions; this can make a world of difference to your patient. Your last question should be, “Mrs. Jones, is there anything else I can do for you today?” Better to field all her questions now, because you’ll just get the phone calls later on.
- Enlist the help of your nursing staff. Nurses can play an important role as well in making the most of patient visits. They can reassure an anxious patient by apprising him of the wait time, and give the doctor a good heads-up by documenting the patient’s symptoms and attitude.
- Follow up promptly. Responding to patient calls without delay will bode well for both your patients and your practice. If a return call is required, let the patient know when she can expect it. If the call is in reference to test results that usually arrive within 48 hours, ask the patient to call back in three days, giving your staff plenty of time for processing and unexpected delays. Become particularly adept with handling anxious patients who call repeatedly, which can tie up phone lines and overly occupy your staff, to help set their minds at ease.
Judy Capko is a healthcare consultant, speaker, and author of the popular books “Secrets of the Best Run Practices, 2006” and “Take Back Time, 2008.” Her focus is practice operations and strategic planning with an emphasis on patient-centered strategies and valuing staff contributions. She is a popular speaker at national and regional conferences. Judy is the owner of Capko & Company, www.capko.com, based in Thousand Oaks, Calif. She can be reached at email@example.com.