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The Ideal Doctor Revealed: What Patients Want Most Before You Say Hello

By Stewart Gandolf, Chief Executive Officer

doctor writing thank you with a blue heart in blue inkHow the Voice of the Customer translates into greater case acceptance and referrals.

Some interesting study data came to our attention recently. It's useful in understanding patient expectations and increasing case acceptance by way of the "Voice of the Customer" (VOC). It's especially helpful when economic times are challenging for both the patient and the hospital, healthcare organization or practice.

Voice of the Customer is a common business term, and no doubt you're familiar with the concept. It's about appreciating what the customer needs and wants. For big business, there are heavy-duty textbooks about VOC...there are sophisticated VOC research and analysis methods and VOC process improvement techniques.

But without great ceremony, successful healthcare businesses listen to the Voice of the Customer (their patients) every day. Being keenly aware of patient expectations—and then meeting or exceeding them—is a cornerstone for branding, patient satisfaction and case acceptance.

The healthcare professionals and practitioners that are most successful in patient acceptance of treatment plans (elective or otherwise) are the individuals who create a personal rapport, and who engender the patient's trust in themselves and the practice.

The added bonus is that the cost for this greater efficiency is low. Allowing an added measure of time with patients is a small investment with a high return potential.

Doctors and staff actively talk to patients about quality of care, what they value in their relationship with the organization or practice and what they consider to be the important traits of "the ideal doctor."

Mayo Foundation Study

Somewhere on every patient's list of things they want to find under your roof will be credentials, experience and maybe the latest technology. But at the top of the list are distinctly 'human touch' factors.

Interestingly, the Mayo "traits of the ideal doctor" study that's been widely seen in the past few years,1 involved 192 patents—a smaller number of patients perhaps than your office sees in a few days. According to the Mayo survey, the seven things that patents most appreciate (with patient descriptions) in doctors are:

  • Confident: "The doctor's confidence gives me confidence."
  • Empathetic: "The doctor tries to understand what I am feeling & experiencing, physically and emotionally, and communicates that understanding to me."
  • Humane: "The doctor is caring, compassionate, and kind."
  • Personal: "The doctor is interested in me more than just as a patient; he/she interacts with me, and remembers me as an individual."
  • Forthright: "The doctor tells me what I need to know in plain language."
  • Respectful: "The doctor takes my input seriously and works with me."
  • Thorough: "The doctor is conscientious and persistent."

What would your patients say?

According to the study, "thorough" was mentioned most frequently among these seven characteristics and "empathetic" mentioned least. More recently, at least one practice took a poll based on this list asking which of the seven traits was most important among their patients. More than 50 percent of that patient group selected "confident."

So what would your patients say and how would they rank what's most important? Perhaps you'll ask them, but most likely their answers will be about personal interaction characteristics. A strong patient-physician relationship is mainly fostered by "feeling" things such as:

  • Eye contact—is a basic sign of connecting, listening and caring.
  • Partnership—in a healthcare relationship is not a one-way proposition.
  • Communication—also works in two directions. Understanding needs. Understanding solutions.
  • Time—is what physicians have little of, and what patients want from physicians. They do not want to feel rushed.

Rapport begins before you say hello...

The first meeting between physician and patient can be coldly clinical. But—according to another study from the Archives of Internal Medicine—what most patients want is to shake hands with their physician and have the physician introduce themselves by first and last name.2 ("Good morning, Mr. Smith. I'm Robert Jones.")

Other physician characteristics of value to patients in the same survey included smiling, being friendly, being warm and respectful, and being attentive and calm.

Case acceptance is grounded in trust.

The patient trusts that the physician has the knowledge and experience to recommend and provide the right course of treatment; they trust that the process will be safe, and they trust that the course of treatment will fulfill their needs—achieving the results that they want and expect.

What's more, satisfaction translates into a bond with the physician and the practice, and the Voice of the Customer becomes a primary source for new patient referrals.

1 Bendapudi, N. Mayo Clinic Proceedings, March 2006; vol 81: pp 338-344.

2 Survey by Gregory Makoul, PhD, Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, Chicago, Il, and colleagues; published Arch Intern Med. 2007;167:1172-1176.

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