Respect: A Valuable Part of Customer Service in your Medical Practice

October 11, 2012

Choosing not to respect your patients may mean that you will be forced to respect their ability to choose another place to manage their health.

In the customer service culture, it is often preached that “the customer is always right.”

Despite all of my training and teaching, I do not subscribe to this phrase. Instead, I rework the idea: “the customer (patient) isn’t always right, but always deserves respect.” In other words, show respect even to those who are disrespectful to you.

Some respect comes in basic form, which is the respect you learned at home growing up. An easy way to implement basic respect is calling your patients by their titles and first or last names, depending on familiarity and what permission they have given you. For example, “Ms. Smith, please follow me.” If Ms. Smith replies, “please call me Jane,” then the resulting term should be “Ms. Jane.”  This simple technique should apply to every patient who walks in the door. 

Some techniques take a little more work, but are still pretty basic, and are important to perfecting the art of showing respect to you patients. In simple terms:  ask, listen and respond, and adapt. Here’s how it breaks down:

1. Ask: It is vitally important to ask your patients how your patients can help them and how you can improve. Asking a patient how you can help them can be as simple as “how can I help you Ms. Smith?” This simple and often overlooked phrase is open ended and allows patients to tell you what their needs are rather than you assuming their needs. Other ways to ask patients how you can improve include a SHORT survey card at the end of their appointment or at check out.  Make sure you sample plenty of patients but it isn’t necessary to survey continually (patients get tired of that).  Perform a survey, fix the problem, wait a reasonable amount of time and survey again to see if the results are improved.

2. Listen and Respond: When patients (or staff) tell you how you need to change your clinic, listen.  When you receive comments on a survey from one patient, don’t disregard it in a huff. Rather, make a note to pay special attention in that area. If you receive more than one comment regarding a particular issue, it is time to formulate a plan and respond. If you don’t respond, what was once a tiny and easily correctable problem becomes a brick wall slamming down. Then, it is much more difficult to dig your way back to your patients’ good graces. Simply stated, why did you ask if you didn’t want to hear the answer and respond to the issue?

3. Adapt: In a business climate that is ever changing, the current swing is toward customer service. Showing respect to your customers/patients is as important as the respect you receive when staying in your favorite hotel or eating at your favorite fine-dining establishment. It is akin to updating a medical procedure with new technology. It is imperative that you adapt your operations to reflect impeccable customer service, including demonstrating a manner of respect for your patients. When you show your patients that you can adapt to their needs and suggestions, you are showing that you respect them.

Choosing not to demonstrate respect for your patients may mean that you will be forced to respect their ability to choose another place to spend their money and manage their health. How will you ask, listen, respond, and adapt to make your clinic more respectful of your patients?