It’s easily overlooked, but every new patient has already “met the practice” several times before they meet the physician. In doctor marketing terms, the patient experience begins long in advance of the first appointment.
Typically, a new patient is forming an impression even before they pick up the phone. Then there will be one or two phone calls in the appointment-setting process. An exchange at the front desk. And when doctor and patient are face to face for the first time, the opportunity for a “good first impression” is long past.
Sadly, we’ve seen many a fantastic healthcare provider struggle because the office procedure and phone protocol have created a negative or unreceptive mindset. The lowly telephone contact is anything but lowly and unimportant. Patients are constantly judging the medical practice and its reputation by external cues and early impressions.
In doctor marketing terms, the front desk and office staff are every bit as important to success as medical skills and training. Here are some fundamental DO and DON’T reminders to keep the welcome friendly, and the introduction to the medical practice professional and helpful.
On the telephone…
DON’T: Get distracted by other tasks and give callers the impression you’re not giving them your undivided attention.
DO: Answer the phones with the practice name and a friendly greeting.
DON’T: Transfer callers to one department after another, forcing them to explain their issue to each new staffer.
DO: Answer patients’ concerns with a reassuring response, i.e., “We’d be happy to help you with that” or “I understand your concern. Let me get that information for you.”
DON’T: Put patients on hold without their permission, and don’t leave them on hold for long.
DO: Check back with patients put on hold to reassure them that you haven’t forgotten about them.
At the front desk...
Patients have chosen the practice from any number of options—including skipping treatment altogether. Show them from the moment they enter the practice doors that they made the best choice.
DON’T: Fail to greet each patient and welcome them to the office.
DO: Smile and make eye contact with patients as they enter the room. Make any instructions clear, and ask if there’s any help you can offer.
DON’T: Answer sensitive questions with a quick yes or no.
DO: Listen carefully to questions, and provide thoughtful answers that allay patients’ concerns.
DON’T: Gossip or discuss personal problems in front of patients.
DO: Remember that everything you say and do reflects on the entire practice.
But that’s not all…
Take care to leave a positive impression.
DON’T: Ignore them as they make their way out the door.
DO: Thank them for coming in. Use their names whenever possible and appropriate.
DON’T: Wordlessly shove paperwork in front of them.
DO: Gently explain any process steps. Always ask whether they have any questions you can answer.
DON’T: Leave out important information about follow-up care.
DO: Make sure patients are aware of additional appointments, prescriptions and follow-up instructions.
AND DO: Include a follow-up step in your office procedure. It makes a vital connection.
These tips scratch the surface when it comes to creating positive impressions with patients. There’s more at risk than losing a patient, which is bad enough. A damaged reputation is difficult to repair.