Put yourself in your patient’s shoes. When was the last time you—or a “mystery shopper”—walked in your practice’s front door and saw your practice the way your patients do? What do they hear when they phone? You may be surprised. I have seen things as simple as a sign in the bathroom that says the bathroom is cleaned every hour, but the patient sees the wastepaper basket overflowing. Also consider how your staff dresses. You may wish to set a professional dress code to avoid conflicts. And consider having everyone—from the receptionist to the doctors— wear name tags. Think of everybody in a physician’s office as a cast member in the play that should be called ‘The 5-star Practice.’
Update your Website. First, make sure you have a Website and that it isn’t just an electronic version of your brochure. Nowadays, patients expect more. The Website should be judged by consumer standards, not medical standards – Why can I send an e-mail to Amazon.com, but [not] to my doctor? Setting up a Website is one of the easiest and cheapest improvements you can make. Putting information online can prompt an office to think—or rethink—about important issues such as practice hours. It’s also an early “easy win”—giving staff who are reluctant to set in motion changes an incentive to make more difficult changes.
Clean and update your office. Update your office’s décor, and most importantly, make sure it’s spotless. Worn furnishings, like outdated hardware and antiquated software, send a message to patients. Battered chairs, frayed carpet, and chipped paint communicate that you are not current with the times. The office doesn’t have to be fancy, but it needs to be well kept. Patient satisfaction surveys show that the state of the office does matter – If the office is disheveled, patients are going to think that you don’t pay attention, that you just don’t care, and that you are not up to date on treatments. Patients may extrapolate from what they see to the quality of care they’re going to receive – If there is 3-star housekeeping, probably there are 3-star medical records, phone answering, and follow-up. You get the idea.
Assemble a team. Believe it or not, at times patients prefer to talk to nurses or medical assistants, particularly to triage their problem or to get educational information. These staff members should be reaching out regularly to your patients with chronic, hard-to-manage problems to ensure they are managed well between visits. One of the best ways to use staff is to “streamline things.” The team can help set things up ahead of time so that both the physician and the patient can make the most of the time together. Staff behavior can have an impact on the team – If the person working at the front desk is crabby, sometimes patients will look beyond that because they care about their doctor, but the doctor probably has to work harder to overcome that – And that won’t make a practice exceptional.