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6 Simple Ways to Improve Patient Experience

By Stewart Gandolf, Chief Executive Officer

Doctor putting comforting hand on female patient's shoulderPatient experience is a phrase we’ve all heard countless times—especially over the last few years. But when used in a hospital or practice, the phrase can occasionally elicit eye rolls. Healthcare professionals all wish they could spend more time with patients, and they try their best. But even the little things can make a difference in the way patients think about you and your team.

Related: What I Learned about Patient Experience from Working at Disneyland

Patient Experience Is About More Than a Friendly Face

Positive patient experience means treating a patient with respect. That covers the very basics of patient experience, but it’s about so much more than simply smiling more and spending more time with patients. People expect more from healthcare than they have in the past. It used to be that a good location was key to keeping patients. Now it’s all about the level of customer service you’re able to provide.

Patients expect their experience at your office to be more like customer service. They just want to be treated the way anyone would want to be treated, and there are some simple ways to do this.

1. Train your staff to answer the phone

Poor staff training can lead to hundreds of thousands of dollars in lost revenue per year. Patients decide against visiting your organization, no matter the level of care you provide, when they perceive the front desk staff as rude or uncaring, or if they don’t respect their time.

If a patient is looking for your services, and they call your number, there’s no reason for them not to schedule an appointment—aside from poor front desk service.

Train your staff to do things that prompt people to take action. Train them to treat patients the way they would want to be treated. To…

  • Answer the phone in 3 rings or less.
  • Use a strong, friendly, consistent greeting.
  • Speak positively of the doctor and services.
  • Never put someone on hold for more than a minute or so.

The little things truly matter to those people who are anxious about scheduling an appointment and want to make sure they are going to a friendly and organized place.

2. Keep the property clean

Dirt and grime are little things that are so easy to avoid. If there’s stuffing coming out of the cushions of the waiting room and dust coating the counters, anyone would be put off. The small issues add up when patients just want to feel comfortable spending time in your office.

If you run out of soap or towels in the bathroom, if paperwork looks disorganized on the counters, if there’s an odor in the office—people register that as part of their total experience. Pay someone to come in and clean a little more often than you already do, and this could be resolved. Use quality cleaners and cleaning products, and make sure your staff knows the importance of quickly changing out toilet paper or paper towels if they notice something missing.

3. Experience things like a patient would

Want to know what your patients think of their experience in your office? Try it out for yourself. Put yourself in a patient’s shoes. Have a staff member go through the appointment scheduling process. See how easy it is to get through the doors if you had a disability. Sit in the waiting room with a stopwatch and see how fast you get seen under normal circumstances. Observe the environment through a patient’s eyes to decide whether it feels warm and welcoming.

It can be difficult to put yourself in someone else’s shoes when you see the place day after day and are familiar with the processes. Have your staff try this exercise and make suggestions about what they would change if they were a patient. You may find that some of your processes need an adjustment, but this can really change the game for your patients.

4. Follow up after a visit

This is something patients will remember. When you call your patient simply to ask how someone is doing after an appointment, they take note. You are never guaranteed to keep a patient after they leave your doors, but this follow-up call is something they’ll remember. Ask whether the medication is working out, if they have questions or concerns, or if they want to change anything.

5. Ask patients about their experience

As a patient is leaving your property, you have the opportunity to find out whether they enjoyed their experience. If they did have a good experience, you can request a review for your website. If they didn’t have a good experience, you have the opportunity to learn about how you can improve the patient experience.

This can be done through an automated system in your office that simply asks patients to rate their experience. If they give a high rating, you can follow up via email asking for a review. If they give a low rating, you can ask what you can improve about their experience, or offer to resolve any issues they may have had.

6. Set the bar higher for patient experience

Too many practices and hospitals base their idea of patient experience on what others are doing. The practice down the street takes 20 minutes to see patients, and I take 15...what else needs to improve? But that’s simply not the best way to gauge whether you provide an overall positive patient experience.

You should strive for the best, not just the best in the area. Putting yourself in a patient’s shoes requires empathy, not comparison, and you should aim to take away as many of their pain points as possible so they can come back to you and get the care they really need.

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