Methods for Retaining Patients at Your Medical Practice

May 31, 2012
Audrey Mclaughlin, RN

The two most important words for retaining patients at your medical practice are: customer service.

Last week, we discussed a few new methods of increasing your new patient flow. This week, let’s look into what to do once you get them there, which is equally important. You want your patients to return, and to suggest your name when someone asks them if they have a family doctor they love. In the saturated market today, treating your patient is not only about being the smartest doc on the block, you also have to earn your patients' business, or they will find someone who will. The two most important words for retaining your patients are: customer service.

I am fairly passionate about customer service, especially in our industry because it can so often be over looked in the name of “good medicine” or even in the name of “getting paid.” We are a big fan of both, mind you, but they must coexist with customer service to succeed.

It is imperative that you provide your patients with the highest level of service from the first phone call, to check-in, check-out, and, most importantly, with money issues. Here is some advice to help get your staff in the game:

1. When a patient calls to schedule an appointment, it is always best to have a real live person (with a friendly tone) answer the phone. In some clinics, it may be necessary for an automated “merry-go-round” system as back up, but live is always best. The fastest way to send a potential patient back to their computer to Google another office is to make them leave a message and wait for a return call to make an appointment.

2. Remind patients via live phone call of their appointments one day prior, or if a patient prefers, text or e-mail is also a growing in popularity. There is still a patient population that needs a phone call reminder.

3. It seems trivial to repeat the obvious, but it is an important part of customer service to ensure that the waiting area is clean and neat. The receptionist should scan it several times a day and straighten magazines or pick up incidental trash.

4. Do you still have the glass divider between the receptionist and the waiting room? Get rid of it. Today.

5. After a patient arrives at the clinic, the receptionist should greet the patient with: “Hi. How may I help you today?” or some version of this greeting. The receptionist should also wait for the patient to respond before instructing them to fill out and hand over this and that. If the patient requires new patient forms to be filled out (these should be available on your website too by the way), the receptionist should give them the clipboard and be sure to say: “Don’t hesitate to ask me if you have any questions.”

6. Try to ensure that your patient comes to the window to answer your questions as few as times as possible. If you need copies of their insurance and driver’s license, be sure and time everything so that they are only returning to your counter once.

7. If you are scratching your head waiting for the information on taking payments when patients check in/prior to service, that advice is simple …don’t.

8. Wait until the patient is in their exam room to speak privately about any billing/insurance issues (most issues should be settled prior to the patient’s arrival in the clinic). It is not appropriate to do so, even in hushed voices, in front of a waiting room full of people.

9. A small expense that goes a long way for customer satisfaction? Offer your patients a bottle of water when they check in with the receptionist.

10. Call your patients by their first and last name or Ms. / Mr. and last name and make eye contact when bringing them from the waiting room to the exam room. This personal touch can put patients at ease.

11. When a patient is finished seeing the provider and is ready to exit the clinic, walk the patient back to the reception/check out area. Do not leave them to try and find the exit themselves, or tapping their fingers in the exam room wondering what they should do next.

12. Take the patient’s payment for services and schedule any follow-up appointments at check out. Again if there is a glass partition, take it down.

13. Keep patients informed. If something is taking longer than usual or if the providers are running behind, let the patients know, give options to wait or reschedule depending on time frame, and ask if there is anything that they need.

14. Never underestimate the power of gratitude. Office staff and providers should thank their patients in every interaction from the moment they speak on the phone until they walk out of the office door. Don’t forget to thank your patients.

And last but not least, the very best advice for maintaining patients after you have captured their attention: Start thinking of your patients as clients and customers with choices, not just patients, and watch your retention rate climb.

Find out more about Audrey "Christie" McLaughlin and our other Practice Notes bloggers.