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So you want more educated, upscale patients? Then act like it.

By Stewart Gandolf, Chief Executive Officer

Three animated 3D stick figures holding up a red "We are the champions" signIt shocks me how many doctors say they want "first class" patients, but then treat these same patients (paying customers) like second class citizens.

The following cautionary tale illustrates my point well.

Wednesday Evening – While my kids were learning to figure skate on one side of our local ice rink (where the Anaheim Ducks practice by the way), I was polishing up some nearly forgotten hockey skating skills.

POP – my knee bends sideways – OW!

Thursday Morning – Ironically, while we work with dozens of orthopedic surgeons across the country, I couldn't think of one who practices within reasonable proximity of my house. So I called my primary care doctor for a referral, and she referred me to a nearby orthopedist.

Nice guy, good qualifications. I told him what I do for a living and he told me I needed an MRI, some anti-inflammatories and Vicodin. I like him. So far, so good.

After that, not so good.

  1. The lady at the front desk begrudgingly called in my script for the meds (I had to ask her), but then handed it back to me saying "No answer, you'll have to drop it off."
  2. Upon receiving the drugs, I noticed the anti-inflammatory the orthopedist mentioned were not included in the bag. I called the office at 4 pm and the receptionist said she couldn't reach him until Friday to find out why he didn't prescribe the anti-inflammatory he'd said I needed. I explained that I am not self-prescribing here, and that I really would like to begin as soon as possible. "Can't you make a quick call to him on his cell?"The staffer told me, "It won't do you any good for 24 hours anyway."Am I missing something here ? if the drug takes so long to get into my system shouldn't I get started right away, rather than lose a whole day? Particularly when my knee was beginning to look more and more like a balloon?
  3. Friday Afternoon – I had my MRI last night but haven't heard anything back about either the MRI or the drug miscommunication. The same staffer tells me that "I left him a message about the meds and he hasn't responded."The MRI? "He'll be back in the office on Tuesday and will phone you then."(My wife just came home and peeked over my shoulder while I typed that last sentence. Her response, "Tuesday, are you kidding me, we have to wait until Tuesday?")

Apparently, I have become an impediment to the staff's busy day.

Silly me, I thought I was a paying customer.

You know, the kind who has good insurance, who pays bills on time, who complies with treatment recommendations and participates in his own healthcare. One who is educated, knows lots of influential people, and doesn't need (or want) a lot of hand holding or time.

Did I mention that orthopedic surgeons almost universally LOVE sports injury cases because they are enjoyable and pay better than the more typical Medicare case?

A sad tale, 'tis true, but the point of the story is far more important than my personal rant.

If you truly want upscale patients, you must know that these patients expect and demand high quality service.

Educated patients are used to being treated with respect and even kid gloves. Everyone else wants their business, and treats them as such.

While some healthcare offices can still get away with a "take a number" attitude, that attitude clearly doesn't work with 21st Century higher end consumers.

Today, upscale baby boomer patients (and younger ones too) view themselves as smart, informed, empowered and responsible for their own lives.

Many of these upscale patients have dropped HMOs in favor of more expensive PPOs (or even traditional indemnity plans) so that they can choose their own practitioners.

"I'm taking charge of my own healthcare now, thank you very much."

The message is clear.

If you want to attract educated patients, you'll need to deliver an upscale experience that is consistent with their expectations. And from the patient's eyes, everything from the first inquiry until discharge counts as part of that experience.

In this particular example, it wasn't so much what had been said but the attitude behind it.

"Calling number 53. Anyone have number 53?...... 54?"

To his credit, the doctor did call me at the end of the day (Friday, not Tuesday), so I still like him. His staff, "not so much."

Since this is what I do for a living, I recounted my experiences to the doctor. He explained a few things and thanked me for alerting him to the problem.

Still, most patients are not practice marketing experts willing to dole out free advice and constructive criticism.

Rather, most patients would simply quietly disappear. And then tell 10 friends.

If you need help with staff training to deliver Nordstrom™ service in line with customer expectations, let us know. We have a variety of resources we can recommend, both within and outside of our company.

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