The Six ‘I’s of Patient Experiences: Intangibles

October 23, 2011

Patients are regularly making inferences about the quality of care you deliver based on the tangible cues they discover.

While in your CPA's office you notice a water stain on a ceiling tile. In your attorney's lobby you can't help but notice the dust collecting on a piece of valuable artwork. You dine at your favorite restaurant and overhear the waiters discussing an issue they're having with their manager.

We've all been in these situations, and what's painfully apparent as an outsider is oftentimes invisible to the service provider because their environment has become so familiar to them.
Due to the intangible nature of services, consumers naturally interpret the quality received by the tangible artifacts - things they can see, hear, read, feel, and observe. It is no different in your office. Patients are regularly making inferences about the quality of care you deliver based on the tangible cues they discover.

It starts before the patient even gets to your office. They pull up your website and find that it's communicating something about the quality they should expect. Is the information you provide well-organized, well-written, and clean or does it look like an after-thought? If you don't have the time to properly represent your practice online, then remove your website. It could be hurting you more than it is helping.

Consider your patient’s arrival experience. From the condition of the parking area and exterior of the building to the greeting as they enter the lobby, remember that your patients will now be sitting in this reception area with little to do but observe what’s going on around them.

1. Protect office communication. Patients sitting in the lobby can often overhear the conversations taking place between the receptionist and the other patients - or with patients on the phone. At one practice a patient had called in to say they would be three minutes late due to traffic. It was a courtesy call, but after the receptionist stated the appointment would have to be rescheduled, it turned into a heated battle in clear ear shot of a lobby full of waiting patients, who are now taking mental notes about whether or not they would call in if they're running a couple minutes late next time.

2. Review the setting. From the comfort of the furniture to the cleanliness of the floors to how current the magazines are in your magazine racks, sit in your lobby for 10 minutes and just look around, taking notes of all of the opportunities you have for improvement.

3. Beware of signage. Signs throughout your office should look like they were put there on purpose. Too often a staff member quickly prints something up in a bold font and tapes it onto a wall to avoid questions they consider a nuisance. I cannot count the number of times I've seen a sign like this that either has spelling errors, grammatical errors, or is posted onto a wall entirely crooked. Before a sign goes up in your office, make sure it gets your approval for its purpose, its message and its placement.

The exam rooms themselves are typically clean and well kept, but they give cues to the quality of service as well. One physician's office had so many posters up on the wall from pharmaceutical companies that it looked like a giant billboard. While a patient is sitting in the exam room waiting to be seen, they are making inferences about how beholden you are to drug companies if you have this much literature up on the walls. It's important to recognize that the exam room itself is the most anxiety-laden environment for the patient; so a cold, white wall in a sterile-looking room will often add to that anxiety. Consider bringing touches of the interior design from your reception area into your exam rooms. Nice, modern looking pictures and a coat of warm-colored paint can go a long way to help ease a patient's anxiety.

Details matter. They matter to you when treating patients and they matter to your patients in their experience with your office. Take the time this week to walk around your office and look at it as if you're looking at it for the first time. Then make the improvements that will have a lasting impact on your patients' perceptions of your quality.

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