If You Build It (Correctly), They Will Come (Back)

December 13, 2007

The end of the year often signals a time to give thanks and to reflect on accomplishments over the past 12 months.

The end of the year often signals a time to give thanks and to reflect on accomplishments over the past 12 months. It's a good time to assess how your practice performed on operational measures.

Ask yourself:

"How many new patient visits did my practice handle this year?"
"How did the volume of established patient visits compare to last year?"
"How does my practice measure up to local and national benchmarks?"

And finally, the big question:

"How many of those visits were

quality

visits that met practice and patient satisfaction goals?"

Why is this important? Because

patient satisfaction is a critical gauge of a medical practice's success.

(To semi-plagiarize a popular political slogan used during Bill Clinton's presidential campaign, "It's the

patient

, stupid!")

Peter Drucker, an influential management expert, lectured for years about the core focus for 20th-century businesses. Very simply, he felt any business should focus on its customers; success and profits will follow.

The core focus of your practice should be to provide quality medical care by meeting the clinical and emotional needs of your patients. Here's a real comment from a patient that speaks volumes about his many not-so-great experiences in physician offices: "I'm not an interruption. I'm the reason ...."

I sincerely hope you can't identify with the implications of that statement.

Developing a mission statement that declares quality patient care is the key to your business. Have you worked to institute a caring culture in your practice? Do you see patients in a timely manner? Do you greet each patient by name? Does your staff answer the phones promptly and with a proper greeting? You get the idea. Stop now and ask yourself, "How can I improve operations so that my practice provides excellent patient service?"

Once you have created processes or refined operations to promote patient satisfaction, how can you measure your progress? Do you conduct patient satisfaction surveys? And if you do, what is your standard for measuring success?

Perhaps 95 percent of your patients rated your practice either a four or five on the five-point Likert scale. Is that really cause for celebration? Consider this before you set your patient satisfaction goals for 2008. For every 1,000 patient visits (and you can expect 4,000 or more visits per doctor, per year), a 95 percent satisfaction rating means that 50 patient encounters were not satisfactory. Do the math for your practice; would you be happy with 200-plus angry or dissatisfied patients?

Take time to consider areas where improvements can be made and implement positive changes swiftly. When it comes time to conduct your next patient survey, target a 99 percent satisfaction rating, meaning only 10 unsatisfactory visits per 1,000 patients. Your business will grow, you will be successful, and your patients, of course, will be happy.

Owen Dahl, FACHE, CHBC, is a nationally recognized medical practice management consultant with over 24 years of experience in consulting for and managing medical practices, and he is the author of Business! Medical Practice Quality, Efficiency, Profits. He can be reached at odahl@houston.rr.com or 281 367 3364.