Differentiation of the Patient Experience Leads to Practice Growth

March 8, 2014

by Jamie Verkamp

Physicians and medical managers are being challenged with the changing economic climate, shrinking reimbursements and increasing costs of doing business. Practice growth is increasingly more difficult as patients have many options for their health needs; patients are now consumers who are willing and able to seek out a better healthcare experience. Given today’s challenges in the medical industry, many health leaders including physicians and managers are asking the question: can a successful, growing practice be achieved in the competitive medical field? The good news is yes!

Successful practices realize they must differentiate themselves from their competition to continue to attract the patients they need to experience sustainable growth.  While there are many standards, policies and procedures to be carefully adhered to, medical practice can differentiate the experience they provide to their patients and the marketing message they convey. When thinking about how to differentiate your practice from the competing medical offices in your market, keep these two questions in mind and use them as a guide to get started:

“What makes our practice and the services we provide clearly better than the practice down the road? “What advantage or inherent quality do we have at our practice that others lack?”

 There are simple, yet effective strategies you can implement to set yourself apart from the rest of the crowd. Here are a few tips to use as a guideline for differentiating your practice from other practices in your market:

 1.    You must provide excellent customer service. Generally any doctor worth his/her salt will be able to adequately take care of patients’ health needs, but that’s not enough for differentiation. You need to provide that care in a better way and with more value added. Patient satisfaction is no longer enough to set yourself apart and grow your practice. A practice must strive for an outstanding patient experience every time and it starts with the phone call to the office through the follow-up after a patient’s appointment.

2.    Make your patients feel valued as human beings. Often times, medical offices focus on the policies and procedures that make up their daily routine. They put a focus on being efficient (which is important—but many practices are efficient) rather than taking the time to stop and interact on a personal, human level with the patient beyond the chart. Here’s a rule for you to follow in your office: keep efficiency out of sight of your patients. Be efficient in your backend processes, but work with your patients on a personal level. Teach your staff to connect, look your patients in the eyes, ask questions and give compliments freely. Also, thank your patients for visiting your office and remind them how much you care. This can happen before they leave your office and also with follow-up contacts after an appointment.

 3.    You need to make sure you can provide this better service and quality of care across the board. If you as a physician or practice manager are providing superior service but the person answering the phones lacks knowledge about the practice or the person checking in patients is abrupt and rude, the better service on the providers’ part is completely overshadowed and negated. 35% of patients are lost, not because of the care received from their provider, but because of the care they received from the receptionist. You must ensure practice wide compliance with your objectives and goals to ensuring outstanding patient experiences.

 4.    If you are providing care in a better way or giving care with additional value added, how will potential patients hear about you? How will they take this into account when choosing their doctor? Medical practices must provide this information in a carefully designed way to reach their targeted patient population. To convey the experiences you provide to your patients, you must craft your marketing message and then broadcast that message to your potential patients. This same message can be conveyed through word-of-mouth marketing from your current patients and result in increased referrals for your practice. Think about using innovative marketing tools such as your practice website and social media to connect with your patients and share your marketing message. Remember, your patients do not want to feel “marketed” to, if they do, your message will be lost. Increasingly, your patients are looking to connect, interact and engage with you through your marketing; it’s time to get creative and educate your patients on why your practice is different and how you value their business.

It is important to remember that small, simple changes in the attitude of your practice over time can add up to a large shift in thinking for your staff. This shift in thinking results in improvements to the experience you provide to your patients in your office. However, do not just think about differentiating your practice within your four office walls, go beyond that physical barrier. By using online tools such as a practice website and social media, you can connect with your patients even after they have left their appointment and build top of mind awareness for your practice. When developing a plan to differentiate your practice from the other medical offices in your market look for simple, but key patient touch points where you can improve and exceed your patients’ expectations. By providing your patients with an improved, surprisingly different patient experience in your office and utilizing innovative marketing methods to connect with them, you are able to enhance and increase your word-of-mouth marketing efforts. The results of these efforts relate directly to an increase in new patient referral volumes, creating sustainable growth within your practice.

Jamie Verkamp is the owner of (e)merge, a medical marketing consulting company. She can be reached at jamie@emergewithus.com or at 816-326-8464.

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