Sure, you did everything you were supposed to do to bring in new patients. But did they come back a second time? No matter how successful your marketing is, chances are it won't be very cost effective if it produces a temporary effect. If you want to retain your patients, you'll have to give them a reason to come back. Today, health care consumers have a wide range of provider choices, no matter what insurance plan they have. An unfriendly face, a long wait, and impersonal interaction can all put an end to patient loyalty.
"Customer service is something of a foreign concept for many medical practitioners,” says marketing consultant Guy Brooksbank, “but if you don’t apply a service element to your practice, you won’t keep patients.”
We applied customer service concepts to a medical provider setting and came up with 3 ways you can greatly improve your patients’ experience:
1. Make a good first impression
Start with the right staff. Every new encounter is a first impression for the patient, whether doctor, technician, nurse or… your receptionist. “It’s really shocking to me that things as basic as the advantages of smiling and eye contact are ignored in so many offices,” says Brooksbank. Whether on the phone or in person, the receptionist is the very first impression - and not just once but on every visit. But instead of replacing every sour-faced staff member, consider replacing attitudes in the work environment.
According to Forbes Magazine “killer ways to make a first impression” always include intention - in dress, body language, and communication.
Address each of these by defining and clarifying your office culture and value system. Make sure every staff member is able to make decisions about appropriate behavior based on a patient-first philosophy.
2. Build every relationship
If you want to keep patients coming back, your best bet is to increase their sense that they are not one among thousands. From the very first visit, listen. Show compassion. Use their name. Explain every diagnosis in a way that makes sense and provide education where it’s lacking. In addition to clinical notes, have staff add records of areas your patient showed particular concern. Know if they need extra time and allow for it. Make notes of their common questions and answer those without being prompted on succeeding visits.
Collaborate with your staff. Patients are more likely to show loyalty if they see a good and efficient relationship between doctor and staff. Reassure them that you haven’t let anything slip through the cracks by communicating respectfully and openly with other members of your team.
3. Increase convenience and offer services
If you can’t retain your patients, it may be a matter of convenience. The prevalence of urgent care and a proliferation of practices mean that a long wait or lack of parking can turn your practice on a dime. But even these common pitfalls can be overcome through other, simple measures.
Train staff to do whatever they can to increase convenience. If referred to another physician or for lab work, offer to make the appointment for them. Keep track of results and notify patients when they’re in instead of telling them to call. Call in prescriptions whenever possible.
And about the wait… If you implement any of these ways to keep patients, you may be adding wait time. Combat that most common complaint by providing a comfortable and convenient space. If possible, provide wireless and an easy way to charge devices. Instead of just a row of uncomfortable chairs, consider workspaces and a more lounge-like feel. Have coffee and beverages available. Keep patients informed about how long the wait is and call in advance if you’re very far off schedule.
Keep patients you attract by thinking in terms of customer service. After all, your patients are your customers and you rely on their loyalty to keep you afloat. Smile, listen, and make things easy and you will retain your patients as long as you're in practice.
Do you ever wonder what patients think about their overall visit to your practice? Use this survey template to measure patient satisfaction!