I got a reminder call yesterday afternoon regarding the doctor appointment I had scheduled today at 10:00am. A “courtesy” call conducted by a friendly enough, though bored-sounding, front office staffer seemingly going through the motions of checking my name off her to-do list.

In a Rush with No Time to Spare.

I rushed from one errand to another before my appointment this morning, and arrived right on time with a minute to spare and a little breathless. I signed in and took my seat with the rest of the patients patiently waiting. After 30 minutes, the front desk associate called my name to collect my co-payment. I handed her my credit card, to which she said, “Oh, we don’t take credit cards anymore; just cash or checks.” I had been going to this doctor for the past four years, and had always paid by credit card. In fact, the doctor never accepted checks until now. Sigh.

Convenient for Whom?

I had no cash on me, and who carries their checkbooks anymore? I was directed to the ATM machine downstairs in the building lobby to grab the cash I needed. Okay, fine. I ran downstairs, collected the cash out of the non-descript cash machine that charged a whopping $3.50 service charge, and raced back up three flights of stairs.

Apparently, my name was called while I was making the mad dash to get the cash. Since I wasn’t there, they took another patient in to see the doctor before me. Three magazines and a half hour later, my name was finally called. I felt like I won the lottery!

Two hours later and starving, I walked out of the doctor’s office on the way to my car wondering why this doctor’s office experience had to be so difficult and frustrating.

A recent study in the current issue of the Journal of Medical Practice Management https://globenewswire.com/news-release/2016/04/26/832480/0/en/Study-96-Percent-of-Online-Complaints-About-Doctors-Fault-Customer-Service-Not-Quality-of-Care.html revealed that 96 percent of patient complaints are related to customer service. Only 4 percent are related to the quality of clinical care or misdiagnoses. This study of nearly 35,000 online reviews of physicians nationwide has found that the chief frustration of most patients is not physicians’ medical expertise or clinical skill, but customer service.

According to Ron Harman King, co-author of the JMPM article and CEO of Vanguard Communications, a marketing and public relations firm for specialty medical practices, “The nearly unanimous consensus is that in terms of impact on patient satisfaction, the waiting room trumps the exam room.”

Nothing is more important than the patient. Considering that it is simpler to correct problems at the front desk than it is to deal with inadequate medical skills, here are three simple yet impactful ways medical offices can immediately improve their front desk service, improve the patient experience, and increase patient loyalty:

 

  1. Be Proactive and Stay Observant. Make the most of your time and ours by doing more than what’s on the checklist. Maximize the courtesy call the night before to prepare us for our visit, whether it’s taking a moment to explain your new payment policy, telling us where we should park and how much parking costs, or reminding us, if required, that we are to fast for twelve hours before we arrive. Going above and beyond the task at hand can make it easier for you and for the patient.
  2. Have some Empathy. Put yourself in the position of the patient. Do you really think the patient wants to be there? Office staff, you have to be there, but most patients, with few exceptions, would rather be anywhere else but the doctor’s office. Be aware of your surroundings at the desk. Whether you realize it or not, 99% of what you say with your co-worker behind the barrier we call the desk can be easily heard by all of us patiently or impatiently waiting on the other side. When it’s close to noon and we’ve been waiting since 10:00am to see the doctor, and diligently fasted for 12-hours prior to our arrival, hearing you chat for over thirty minutes about what you are all going to have for lunch is cruel.
  3. Smile! Be friendly and positive. Remember, you create the first impression of what is to come for that patient. Show sincerity by welcoming patients with a warm smile, positive eye contact, and a genuine friendly greeting. Whenever possible, stand up to greet them. Make them feel wanted and welcome. This is one of the best ways to calm a patient’s nerves and reduce their anxiety, help them be more agreeable to your requests, and increase their patience with long wait times.

 

Kellee Ann Everts is a passionate champion and recognized professional with over 20 years of experience in customer experience improvement, team and organizational development, and retail management. Ms. Everts is known for applying an all-inclusive approach to training and organizational development, focusing on even the minutest of details to ensure superior service is delivered to all customer groups and stakeholders. As principal of Kann Succeed Enterprises, she designs, creates, and develops various tools and programs for clients, including Customer and Patient Journey Maps, Physician Performance Programs, and 360  ̊ Secret Shopper Programs.

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