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How to Destroy Patient-Physician Relationships in a New York Minute

By Stewart Gandolf, Chief Executive Officer

new york minuteIf there is one dominant factor that quickly erodes the patient-physician relationship, it is lack of respect—particularly a feeling of disrespect for the patient’s time.

Patients have a limited ability to judge a physician’s clinical competence, but they do have a sense of personal self-worth that says: “My time is just as valuable as your time.” And with healthcare delivery increasingly shifting from provider-centric to a consumer-centric model, patients want their time to be respected more than ever.

OK…yes, doctors are increasingly busy, and yes, stuff happens. But when the office is constantly “running a little behind,” when inbound phone calls routinely end in terminal “hold please,” and when lengthy patient waits are SOP…the negative fallout has many faces:

Upscale patients—the ones that doctors typically want to attract and retain—are too busy to be tolerant for long. US News and World Report lists “respect for time” as a top reason for patients to fire their doctor:

“The medical community is becoming increasingly sensitive to patients' precious time. When they're late for an appointment, some habitually tardy doctors have even begun compensating patients with money or gifts. If your doctor's chronic lateness makes you grind your teeth, why stay with him?”

Bad time management and medical errors. Caseloads and rushed schedules are linked to diagnostic mistakes. Neither doctor nor patient wants to participate in “haste makes waste.” Earlier this year, Modern Healthcare reported that physicians blame patient ‘treadmill’ for missed calls:

“When time or resources are limited, all people including physicians rely on mental shortcuts or heuristics, an abbreviated way of thinking. That can lead physicians to make quick assumptions and introduce cognitive bias. This not only increases the likelihood of missing disease warning signs, but leads to poorer quality decisions.”

The average time patients spend waiting to see the doctor is, according to Press Ganey, about 24 minutes. Satisfaction slides downhill rapidly in half that time. (And often the slide is out the door and into the office of a competitor.)

Some patients have sent their doctor a bill for being tardy. MedPage Today lists some of the patient’s options in this article, and you don’t want to be the medical practice on the receiving end of these action items.

The article concludes: “I wonder how committed the practice is to my comfort and to reducing my anxiety when they seem to be putting more emphasis on their needs than on mine.”

Lack of patient respect—evidenced by an attitude of indifference—is the root cause of the Paradox of Disappearing Patients. Notwithstanding that time management in a busy medical practice is a challenging task, doctors who fail to respect the patient’s time are likely to lose their business, or at a minimum, generate a pattern of negative online reviews and bad word-of-mouth.

And from an elementary business perspective, it’s far more difficult and costly to attract new (replacement) patients than it is to retain existing (loyal and satisfied) patients. Staying on schedule is no longer a “nice to have,” but a theoretical goal.

Respect—with little or no patient waiting—is healthcare’s new mandate. While no system is perfect, there must be a system in place to make it happen…and not just running to keep from getting further behind.

It’s a fundamental requirement of staying in business. Those practices that are consistently or chronically “behind schedule” are consistently and chronically at risk. Conversely, those providers who have reinvented their service delivery systems to respect the patient/customer, stand head and shoulders above the competition.

For more on this topic, read:

Mastering Customer Service: Patients Are Not an Interruption

Break the 21-Minute Patient Wait Barrier to Improve Patient Satisfaction in Doctor Marketing

Stewart Gandolf, MBA

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