The impact of good physician/patient relations can never be underestimated. It affects not only the bottom line (positive patient experiences mean repeat business) but also patient outcome by laying the groundwork for greater patient compliance. In short, treat every patient as a valued individual.
The following patient relations tips represent a compilation and summary of suggestions from leading physicians, healthcare providers and industry analysts. While clearly the physician/patient relationship transcends a standard business transaction, some aspects of good customer service can apply to the medical field, too.
- Solid business practices lay the groundwork for good patient relations. Though glitches happen even in the most efficient practices, savvy professionals make every effort not to give patients cause to complain. Accurate scheduling; clear, reliable telephone and email messaging; prompt feedback on procedures and tests; and coordinated communication between physicians, nurses, patients and desk personnel build patient confidence and satisfaction.
Research suggests that poor billing procedures can strain patient relations. Given this, staff persons responsible for invoicing and other financial matters must take particular care to be sensitive and equitable in dealing with patients. In addition, all bills should be concise, complete and easy to understand.
If inferior practice management software or outdated record-keeping systems are causing snafus, look into new programs, or seek the advice of a qualified IT professional. A relatively small investment can make the difference between losing – and holding on to – a significant number of patients.
- Create a pleasant ambience in the reception area. Lengthy sojourns in the waiting room don't do much to increase patient satisfaction, but delays sometimes are unavoidable. If patients cannot be seen promptly, the receptionist should inform them of the situation upon arrival, and then provide a projected time.
To further ease the situation, stock the place with current general interest magazines; books and toys for children; and a television tuned to a news channel or talk show. Indirect lighting (lamps rather than overheads), large windows and clean, comfortable furniture likewise work well to help manage patient anxiety.
- Allow time for patient education. Be generous with information concerning a patient's particular issues and invite questions. Keep answers clear, understandable and light on medical jargon.
- Treat patients as individuals. A medical practitioner may have performed thousands of biopsies and minor in-office surgeries, but for their patients, these procedures may be new territory. Take time to address their fears during treatment and follow up with phone calls or emails.
- Add a "human" touch. Include notes about the patient's job, family, school, hobbies and other personal circumstance in their files; then bring up one of these topics during the appointment. People feel nurtured when they believe their healthcare providers care about them.
- Don't just talk. Listen. Observe. By allowing patients to speak freely, by taking note of body language, astute medical professionals can gain insight on how best to approach treatment on an individualized basis. Being a good listener also invites the patient's trust.
- Use specific language when taking patient histories. Too often, unclear or imprecise questions elicit incomplete information, leading to miscommunication and misunderstanding between the physician and patient.
- Keep tabs on current patients, even when they have not been to the office for a while. Checking in via email, an occasional phone call or an annual "state-of-the-patient" appointment are strategies that can warm up the most tepid provider/patient relationship.
- Train support staff to value all patients. While medical reception areas can be hotbeds of activity, this is never an excuse for brusqueness or rude disregard of patients waiting to see their physicians. Recognize and reward personnel who interact with patients in a warm, respectful manner.
- Treat office staff with consideration. In the long run, being fair and courteous to personnel impacts patients positively as well. After all, a happy employee is more likely to be pleasant to others.
- Understand personal limitations. No matter how service-focused a physician or other provider may be, everyone has his or her weak spot. Unreasonable, irritable or complaining patients can trigger impatience, distress – even anger – in their physicians and other care providers. Make a concerted effort to keep emotions under control.