Physicians Are a Critical Part of Patient Retention Too

June 7, 2012

Here are eight ways that physicians / providers can directly help improve patient retention rates.

As one of our readers pointed out via the comments section, there is another side to the discussion of retaining patients at your medical practice. He noted that some of the fault falls on physicians as well, so I would like to address some ways that physicians and/or providers can directly to help improve patient retention rates.

1. Be on time. If you would not allow your staff to arrive late to work, you should not either. Emergencies arise for everyone, so the moment you know you will be late, call your office so that the staff can give patients the options discussed in last week’s tip number 13. If tardiness is routine, change your office schedule, there is no reason to start patients at 8 a.m. if you cannot be there before 10 a.m. Be flexible.

2. Be honest and apologetic. People understand that your car battery was dead or your child forgot their school books, or that a patient’s issue during hospital rounds turned out to be a little more in-depth than expected. Patients are more likely to be satisfied if you are transparent.

3. Encourage your office manager/practice administrator to have an open dialogue with the staff and with you. This helps the staff to bring their honest opinion to him/her and in turn you can receive the constructive criticism.

4. If you are spending too much time in the exam rooms per patient, have a set time limit or signal for your nurses to "bail you out." Briefly review your schedule and determine the maximum amount of time you could spend with your patients, when the MA/nurse notices that time has lapsed, she politely knocks on the exam room door with an urgent phone call for you. This gives you an open window to excuse yourself and let the nurse take over. If the patient is a repeat offender, ask the front desk to schedule them as the last patient of the morning or afternoon or even book them two slots, if possible.

Another way to save time is to pop in, figure out what the next steps are, have the nurse pop in to setup (while you see another patient) and then stop back by to ensure the patient is satisfied. If there is not enough staff to handle this method, then get your nurse/MA her own business cards and have her give it to the patient for any questions or concerns. This will eliminate the need for the final check in before a patient leaves the office.

5. Gratitude, as mentioned in number 14 of last week’s tips. Physicians should be thanking their patients and their staff, daily. No grand gestures, no bonuses on a daily basis, simply to the patient, “thanks for coming to see me today” and to the staff, “thanks for your work or effort today.”

6. Help your staff behave like radars. Radars always know what is coming next and are prepared for it. The best way to help them is by providing good notes from the previous visits, and keeping the staff informed of what a particular patient is going to need before moving on to the next. ("Radar" was my personal nickname in a clinic I worked in for this same reason).

7. Give your nurse/MA a few minutes of your undivided attention first thing in the morning, just before or after lunch, and after the last patient of the day. This will allow her to ask any lingering questions about patient refills, questions, etc., and handle them at appropriate lulls in clinic time, rather than keeping an office full of patients waiting while she calls in scripts mid-day.

8. Get an unbiased opinion. If you as a physician or group of physicians/providers are doing everything right, and feel that the poor patient satisfaction/retention rate must be your staff’s fault, and yet your staff says the opposite is true, bring in a consultant to observe, give an honest opinion (be ready to receive and act on it-no matter the results), and suggest remedies/policies to bring about change.

It generally takes less effort to run a practice once everyone, including the physicians is on the same page regarding customer service. The doctor is happy because the practice is flourishing, the staff is happy because they aren’t ducking flying charts or instruments, and the patients most importantly are happy. When the staff is happy they spread the word about the wonderful practitioners they work for, they come to work on time, and they have fewer absences. When the patients/customers are happy, they spread the word and return for more appointments.

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