Patient Moments of Truth and Your Practice: Patient Check-out

February 19, 2012

Your medical practice's check-out area is the last impression patients are left with and as important as their first impression.

As patients cycle through your practice during a visit, their last stop is typically the check-out and billing area. Since this is the last impression they are left with, it’s important that you invest effort in making it as purposeful as you make your first impression in the reception area. These two experiences - reception and check-out - form the bookends of your patient experience.

What happens during these two interactions is important in shaping the impression that patients have of your practice. This week, in our final part of this series on patient moments of truth, we’ll examine key elements of the check-out process that can be enhanced to improve your practice.

The humanics. Like many other areas, it’s best to hand off a patient to the check-out team in a warm way. That means the final clinician that saw the patient in the exam room should escort the patient to the check-out area and introduce the team they’ll meet with next. In this introduction, introduce your staff by first name and provide something memorable about them or a way for the patient to connect with them. For example, “Mrs. Smith, this is Jacqueline, she is our billing administrator and she’ll check you out today. Jacqueline has been with the practice for five years now and knows how to work with all the insurance companies.”

After the introduction, it’s important that the staff you have be personable and sincere when talking with patients. Observe their eye contact with patients and the pleasantness o their demeanor. They have a difficult job when they’re interacting with payers, but when they get on-stage with patients, they need to make a positive connection. Be sure they provide clear instructions to patients on any payment-related issues and that they communicate expectations related to follow-up items (e.g. lab results should be in by a certain date).

The mechanics. Patients will interpret long check-out lines as a negative experience, so it’s best to queue your releases from exam rooms to minimize any lines at check-out. It’s also important that the process move quickly. This is a place where automation and EHR technology can be helpful to smooth the flow of information and speed the patient through the process. After offering or confirming a follow-up appointment time, it’s a great gesture to offer a work/school absence note. Patients sometimes forget about these and it shows that you recognize that the patient’s life consists of more than their visit to your practice.

The follow-ups. Even though it takes place after the check-out process, patient follow-ups are another critical activity to demonstrate your practice’s concern for patient needs. Build a formal scheduling structure to make sure that any physician follow-ups are built into their schedule. Call your own practice and find out how easy or difficult is it to get a prescription refill over the phone, to speak with a nurse, or to talk directly with a physician. Develop initiatives and projects internally to improve these interactions.

With all of these moments of truth, the consistent theme is to try to find ways to put yourself in the shoes of your patients. In medical practice, our internal challenges and processes become so familiar that it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that all the business of healthcare is invisible to the patient.

Find ways to expose your staff and team to patient perspectives through survey feedback, mystery visitors and patient interviews. Staying connected to the needs of your patient community will make you a better practice and will reap business benefits.

Find out more about George Taylor and our other Practice Notes bloggers.