Physicians Should Practice Medicine & Staff Should Practice Hospitality
Gregory Broccoli a healthcare executive in Brooklyn NY was asked what has changed in the past ten years regarding the fundamentals running a physician practice? “During my tenure of 25 years in working with physician practices, I have often found a grumpy a receptionist, a staff following redundant office tasks and a physician handling non-clinical operational challenges. Although it lacks organization the day goes by as patients wait to be seen by the doctor.”
I see three important keys to successful practice; First and foremost, patient care. Next physicians should have every possible tool to perform his / her job efficiently and effectively and a happy organized staff. So, we come to a road which leads to providing patient care. Patient care has always revolved around hospitality or bedside manner. Friendly, courteous, compassionate and empathy is why they came to your practice. They want to feel at home. It also applies to a hospital setting as well such as the Emergency Room.
So, let’s begin with the environment. The setting, make sure that your waiting area is clean and comfortable (this goes for restrooms also). This may mean that someone must oversee inspecting and straightening these areas at certain intervals during the day. It certainly means that it should be a collective team effort to pick up/straighten up/clean up any unsightly messes. Offer your patients (guests) a drink, even if your refreshments are in the waiting room, instruct them to “help themselves to a bottle of water.”
It is even more important that the staff (including the practitioners) demonstrate hospitality in their behavior. The way you have been treated at your favorite upscale hotel or restaurant. Smiling and warm to your patients and thank them for coming. Ask how you can help them. Hold open the doors for them — All too often when I come in to observe an office and make suggestions, I see a patient struggling to get thru the door and the staff ignoring it. Your staff should be smiling on the phone — you really can hear the difference.
I would expect that most of you understand the principles of hospitality in general. The keys are how to implement it. If you or your office manager isn’t a particularly hospitable person, and not everyone comes by it naturally, then try appointing a staff member to be your “hospitality ambassador.” It is their job to hold meetings, fun/team building games and come up with great ways and rewards for the staff. Also, this person is responsible for coming up with additional ways to extend hospitality to the staff.
In all that you do and all the hospitality you provide, it is absolutely key to be genuine. People who feel they are getting great service for their money and have been treated in a hospitable manner, do a number of things — they come back, refer friends and family, are loyal, pay their bills in a more timely fashion (and with less complaint), trust their providers, follow directions better, etc. There is a myriad of benefits.
Physicians that exhibit empathy and compassion for each patient should apply a most cordial bedside manner. Patients come to the practice because they want the “nicest doctor to take care of them”.
What is the number one reason that patients leave a clinic to find care elsewhere?
The answer: A lack of customer service, though they may call it “poor bedside manner” or a “cranky receptionist.” Still, regardless of the specialty, it all boils down to customer service. You may think of them only as patients, but they are also customers. And they have choices.
Medicine isn’t what it used to be — the practice of medicine now includes authentic heart-centered customer service, or what I like to call “customer service from the H.E.A.R.T.”
Mr. Broccoli says my competitors report that when their patients leave, they often don’t realize it until they see it in their bottom lines. Most patients don’t make a big scene; they just quietly slip away to another provider.
Mr. Broccoli suggested providing your patients with customer service from the H.E.A.R.T. is not a pile of complicated systems, policies, and over-management techniques. It is putting the heart (no pun intended, but I will take it) back into your clinic, keeping it simple, and allowing yourself to better and more authentically serve your patients.
Here are some quick applications of customer service from the H.E.A.R.T. for your clinic:
- Hospitality: This can be pretty simple. Be inviting to your patients (they are your guests after all). Make your waiting room clean and comfortable. Would you want to sit in your own waiting room? Go sit there for an hour one day and see how inviting it is. Have coffee or tea available and offer bottled water to your patients. Keep television volume, especially if you are advertising services, at a reasonable level. Make sure staff (including doctors) is smiling and warm. Hint: This starts on the phone before the patient ever gets to the office. You may even consider making a person the hospitality ambassador for your office. This person can hold weekly meetings to get the staff on board with hospitality.
- Empathy and Enthusiasm: Empathy is very important in customer service because it allows you to put yourself in the patient’s shoes; being empathetic increases retention rates as well as increasing compliance (the number patients actually following up with your medical recommendations). Empathy can also instantly diffuse an irritated patient.You can show empathy by saying with sincerity (in your face and tone). For example:”That is awful. Let me see how I can help.””I understand your frustration.””I would be upset if that happened to me.”
It bears repeating: Be sincere; otherwise, your empathy will not be effective.
Enthusiasm is also very important. If the staff, including the physician, is enthusiastic in their work, patients will want to be there (and so will the staff!). Enthusiasm goes hand and hand with hospitality and must be shown sincerely in body language, tone, and facial expressions.
- Attitude: This is a big one: Attitude is everything. Everyone who comes in contact with a patient must have a winning attitude and show it, even over the phone. Each patient should feel that you are thankful they chose you and your business. By no means does this mean a groveling attitude, just a general a thankful attitude. Thankfulness or gratitude is being glad they are there and confident they will continue to choose your practice. If you are afraid of losing your patients and unappreciative of them, you give off an aura of fear and stress, which isn’t healthy for you, your patients, or your business. Gratitude is tangible and transformational.
- Respect: The patient isn’t always right but always deserves respect. The best way to show your patients respect is the same way your parents taught you, even though your parents probably didn’t break it down into steps. The steps are asking, listen, respond, and adapt. Ask patients how you can help them or improve your practice. One simple example: When a patient walks in, staff should ask “How can I help you?” How often have you seen staff in medicine or retail simply look up and says, “Yes?” We don’t like it as consumers; our patients don’t really like it either. Sincerely asking, “How can I help you?” starts the patient’s experience off on a positive note. Really listen to what your patients are telling you about ways you can improve and how you can help them. Respond or act in the ways you learn you need to change and improve and adapt to this changing market where customer service rules.
- Timeliness: Be on time. Explain your delay to patients truthfully if you are not on time. If you as an office or practitioner are habitually late, adapt the patient scheduling to make up for it.
If you are limping through customer service, your customers/patients will find another provider.
Excellence in customer service will help your retention and referral rates.
Gregory Broccoli has 25 years of ambulatory care and multi-specialty physician operations; his background includes both clinic procedures and administrative. Over the years he has had the ability to examine and re-engineer operations and workflows and report operational metrics to staff and providers. The main principle of a patients office visit is the patient experience. It’s the foundation and fundamental step toward quality healthcare.