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While excellent care is important, the way to build lasting patient relationships is through a knowledgeable, well-trained, and friendly staff.
I’ve been practicing pediatrics in the same community for 22 years now. I have many patients that want to continue seeing me even though they have “aged out” of my practice. I even have patients that will drive more than 70 miles to seek me out in whichever of my three offices that I happen to be on any particular day. It’s easy to think that I am the sole reason these patients continue with my practice. That isn’t true. Our practice would not be nearly as successful were it not for our fabulous nurses and receptionists.
My staff allows me to efficiently and effectively take care of my patients. The receptionists make sure that my patients are scheduled appropriately and that billing information is correct. The nurses prepare the patients in the exam room so that they are ready when I enter the room. When I am finished they complete any interventions that I have ordered. As the patients leave, they once again interact with the front-desk staff (the first and last people a patient sees).
If you examine the above scenario, I am the smallest part of the total time of a patient encounter. Yes, I am the only one that can bill for services, but my staff interacts with patients for a longer time than I do. Thankfully, my staff enables our practice to provide top notch medical care.
Having a knowledgeable and well-trained staff is imperative to running a practice well. Having a compassionate and friendly staff is even better. The very best situation possible is to have all of the above, plus having a close working relationship between the physician and all the staff. This allows for the patient to have a seamless and very personal experience.
Do you think that it doesn’t matter? Think again! Patients will leave your practice if they have a difficult time with either the receptionists or the nurses, despite what a wonderful physician you might be. I have had this happen with our practice. Some patients will even avoid a certain office site due to a single unfriendly office staff member. I have also had patients specifically request that certain nurses not take care of their children. And don’t forget that with all the current social media platforms, a single bad experience may cause a patient to spread the word far and wide.
Don’t misunderstand me. Of course the physician must give excellent medical care! But the overall patient experience demands a staff that is personable and caring.
Here are a few ideas that you can implement in your practice that may help you build better patient relationships.
1: Appreciate Staff. Make sure that your staff understands that you value their contribution and tell them you could not take care of the patients without their assistance. Staff members that feel appreciated will go the extra mile to help you and the patients.
2: Expectations. Does your staff know how you want the patients to be treated by them? All of your staff members need to know your expectations for patient relations. Simple things are important such as saying their name when answering the phone and repeating their name before ending the conversation. Nurses should inquire if there is anything else the patient needs before allowing the patient to leave the exam room. And of course, for well-known patients, greeting them warmly is very important.
3: Smile. Staff members should be reminded to smile frequently at patients in the office and when answering the telephone. Voices sound different when smiling versus frowning. Often patients are worried, tired or in pain when they arrive at your office. A friendly smiling face is comforting.
4: Listen before “No.” Inform your staff to refrain from immediately saying “no” to a patient question. Instead, have them practice trying to solve the patient’s problem or even just try to understand exactly what the patient is requesting. Patients appreciate someone listening compassionately to their problems.
5: Do your own investigative work. Call your office and see how the staff answers the phone. If necessary, remind to wait for an answer if they must put you on hold and make sure they state their name clearly. How many rings does it take for an answer? If you have an automatic phone attendant, is the message pertinent and up to date, and are the options easily explained and navigated? When you overhear a staff member being especially kind or accommodating, give them praise on the spot.
6: Ask patients. As the physician, ask your patients about their experience in your office. Was it easy to make an appointment? Did the staff meet their expectations? Does the patient have any suggestions about improving your office?
7: Gifts on special days. Don’t forget about national nurses and receptionists day! Flowers, cupcakes or free lunch on those days will remind them that they are greatly appreciated.
8: Do not ignore problems. Should you have a staff member that is difficult in dealing with patients, do NOT ignore the problem because it will not go away on its own. Deal with the staff member promptly and do not be anxious of letting them go if the situation does not improve. You do not have to be held hostage by staff just because you are afraid of trying to replace them. Far better to be short staffed than get a bad reputation for the practice.
Your staff is vital to your success as a physician. Without them, you would have a much more difficult time delivering excellent patient care. Make sure they represent your values with respect to patient care and regularly thank them for the kindness they give to others. The result will far exceed the effort you exert.