The Science of Case Acceptance: Shaping the New Patient Experience

By Stewart Gandolf, Chief Executive Officer

In our work with medical practices throughout the United States we've observed an interesting phenomenon that healthcare providers and administrators might marvel at seeing for themselves.

How would your office staff greet each new patient if they thought the individual might be a "secret shopper?" Would the prospect of staff accountability change the way they interact with a new patient who was evaluating the overall experience? The answer, in our experience, is definitely "yes." Here's a two-stage approach:

Stage One: Accountability Motivates

Let every member of the staff know that someone—posing as a new patient—will be coming into the office to quietly audit how they are treated. This unidentified evaluator will begin with an unbiased or neutral point of view. They will be documenting the good and the not-so-good details of how they were treated from doorstep to checkout. The office staff knows only that it will occur sometime (perhaps more than once) in the coming few weeks.

Our colleague and Staff Training Director Zac Wright frequently sees what happens. Clients, providers and administrators observed significant behavioral changes throughout the office. Staff members were noticeably friendlier, they were meeting and greeting new patients with greater care and concern, and patients never languished in the reception area, etc.

The prospect of being judged in their work expanded the staff's perspective from "pleasing the boss" to more broadly including "pleasing the customer." What's more, staff members were increasingly receptive to training. They become eager to know exactly what is expected of them, how they are being evaluated and what tools they can use to enhance the new patient experience.

Stage Two: The Science of Case Acceptance

Delivering a positive patient experience in particular—and strategic marketing training in general—requires more than a well-intended (but often superficial) "smile-and-be-friendly" instruction. Shaping the new patient experience has defined process steps that support specific goals. It uses a systematic and deliberate methodology, with responsibilities and accountability that involves everyone who has contact with the patient.

The goals of the Science of Case Acceptance (SCA) programs include creating a program for consistently delivering an outstanding new patient experience.

The carefully planned and systematic office procedure that warmly welcomes each new patient cultivates fertile ground for what follows. And when new patients see themselves as welcome and bonded to the practice, they are more inclined to accept, adhere to treatment plans and, as satisfied individuals, refer their friends and family.

Staff training includes crafting the optimal new patient greeting, and creating the process steps for a new patient office tour, efficiently handling paperwork, being comfortable with case presentation and referral verbiage.

Shaping the New Patient Experience

The specifics of any given program will vary slightly with each practice situation, but a successful system will include best-practice elements that shape a positive new patient experience, promote an atmosphere of acceptance and inspire referrals. The key elements are:

  • Greeting every new patient professionally as soon as they arrive
  • Preventing long wait times through efficiency
  • Designing and using an effective tour of the office
  • Learning how and when to ask for patient referrals
  • Presenting and asking for patient testimonials
  • Applying the "Doctor's 5-Minute Rule" to establish trust and rapport
  • Developing verbal communications skills to present ideas with clarity and understanding
  • Structuring a staff incentive program (where appropriate)

SCA programs can be taught and applied, with variations, in every medical practice. Properly setting the groundwork for, and effectively delivering, a positive new patient experience produces measurable results that are essential for strategic growth.

In the words of one practice administrator, "The routine which we've established to greet new patients and welcome them with a tour like they were visiting our home for the first producing more referrals and bottom-line results," Zac reports.

"It's clear that patients feel appreciated. They understand that we are looking out for their best interests, personally and professionally." It's like taking a page from the hospitality industry including how the staff of the finest properties serve their guests.

For many practices, delivering a first class patient experience is a distinct competitive advantage. And it can be as fundamental as making sure that each patient has at least one "Wow" moment during his or her office appointment.

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