A Medical Practice's Best, and Often Overlooked, Patient Retention Tool

August 16, 2014

A former boss once said to me, “Medicine is all about the docs.” Indeed it is, but the staff that supports the docs determines how patients feel about the practice.

The TV show "Mad Men," depicts the lives and working environment of the advertising men of Madison Avenue. Marketing in the 60s was glossy and hip. It was the dawn of The Beatles and that glorious thing called color TV. Cigarettes were “in” and the Marlboro Man adorned huge billboards in New York City’s Times Square.

While marketing is still glossy and TV is still TV - albeit no (thank God) Marlboro Man - the new paradigm is Facebook, Twitter, streaming video, and a new consumer app each and every day.

While we all instinctively still get excited when we see ads of our physicians in print, and we feel “hip” that we are “Tweeting and posting,” there is nothing that can ever replace the friendly, genuine smiles and greetings from our receptionists, medical assistants, and nurses.

When you go to your local dry cleaner, bank, even your mechanic, doesn’t it feel good when you are greeted with a smile? Even better, when they remember your name or. even better, when they ask, “How are the kids doing in school?” When you visit a nice restaurant for dinner, while the food is the primary reason for visit, it is the overall experience that makes the food taste better. The engaging wait staff “coordinates” the visit and makes the overall dining event much more pleasurable.

The foundation of good business relationships is based on good personal relationships. A medical practice is no different, and perhaps, it is where good personal relationships are most important. Patients' individual health is established and cultivated on a true personal relationship.

While it sounds nice that a practice has a physician that is “Harvard educated," or one who is “engaged in clinical trials at the NIH,” a disengaged or discourteous front-office member can truly set the initial tone for an unpleasant office visit.

My practice traditionally performs patient satisfaction surveys. While most responses are very positive, “Janet is always helpful and pleasant when I visit Dr. Smith,” the one negative element that is always highlighted is how our patients feel they were greeted by the front-office staff, and how the clinical support staff engages and empathizes with them.

Typical negative comments are, “The nurse was not very friendly,” or, “The person at the front desk seemed rushed and was curt.”

Very rarely is there a negative comment concerning a physician. It is the support staff that receives the majority of both the positive and negative comments about the visit and the practice.

The patients' rights and responsibilities sign that hangs in our reception area states,

As your healthcare provider we will:
– treat you with respect & compassion
– be open and honest
– listen to and answer your questions
– be responsive and timely with your care

A former boss once said to me, “Medicine is all about the docs.” Indeed it is, but the staff that supports the docs makes the entire practice look good -and we never needed to “Tweet” that.