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How to Improve Patient Satisfaction and Win Patient Referrals

By Stewart Gandolf, Chief Executive Officer

open handsWhat's important to patients and three easy ways to measure approval.

Sometimes the flow of patients seems...well, over-flowing.

But if you're continually running behind schedule, this could be a danger signal that your quality of care and patient satisfaction are not where you want them to be. Professional and personal fulfillment, for both doctor and staff, may be running thin. And that's a potentially poor environment for patient retention and patient referrals.

But achieving a good understanding of "the patient experience" involves many variables. Fortunately, the key issues are quantifiable, so here's how to begin to measure patient satisfaction.

Cornerstones of the Patient Experience

Nothing is automatic, assured or assumed. A patient's willingness to return (retention) depends only partly on their immediate need for your services. Each occasion of "need" is also an opportunity to select a (different) provider...a process strongly tempered by their last experience.

The American College of Physicians, American Academy of Family Physicians, and many others tell us that Patient Satisfaction Surveys are built around hundreds of considerations, but a few key categories bubble to the top. (And even some of these overlap.)

Plan your Patient Satisfaction Survey around these cornerstone issues:

  • Issues of Quality of Care: Is the patient satisfied that the medical care they sought has resolved or helped with their need or problem?
  • Issues of Access: These include getting through on the phone, ease of making a timely appointment, in-office waiting times, ease and cost of parking, etc.
  • Issues of Interpersonal Actions: Is the doctor, nurse, and assistants caring, concerned, compassionate? Is the receptionist courteous? What about the business staff and others?.
  • Issues of Communication: Do you provide clearly understandable instructions or health information materials, explanation of medical and treatment terms? Is it easy to get test results or call back from the office?
  • Issues of Doctor-Patient Interaction: Does the doctor listen, answer all questions, spend enough time with the patient (or does he/she have the appearance of being late or rushed)?

Distilled Even Further...

It's all about a one-to-one relationship.

From the high-altitude perspective, all issues are different faces of the relationship that the patient feels or experiences. And people return to the practice because they feel connected, they have a sense of belonging, there is a mutual esteem.

Above all, when they feel they have been treated with respect-from the first phone call to the doctor face-to-face-the measure of satisfaction goes up. And the by-product of delivering accessible, quality healthcare and treating patients with courtesy is that the experience inspires word-of-mouth referrals.

Survey Tools (that don't break the bank)...

You don't need to go to an outside consultant to create and conduct a survey in your office. Get started today with these...

Ask each patient...everyone, every day. When Ed Koch was mayor of New York City for more than a decade, his catch-phrase was "How'm I doin'?" (He was elected three times.)

Take a second to ask...and take a minute to listen. Keep track of the issues, and encourage the staff to do as you do.

Use a KISS form. The "Keep It Short and Simple" approach works well. Carefully craft just five or six choice questions, provide a consistent 1 to 5 rating (from poor to excellent), on a single piece of paper. Include at least one open-ended question with space for written comment.

Use an online survey tool. There are free and low-cost online survey systems available on the Internet. One of many is Survey Monkey (www.SurveyMonkey.com). Don't be put off by the peculiar name...it's an easy-to-use tool to create your own survey and compile the resulting data. There are free and low-fee options, and either way, it's a bargain.

An online survey can be completed in or outside of the office; data is entered anonymously and without risk of bias or staff influence.

Keeping Score (and raising the bar)

With the paper survey, the online survey, and even the informal, verbal survey, tabulate the quantifiable scores and review what you find with staff at least monthly. Take pride in areas of strength and work on raising the score over the next month. The measures of your efforts will include increased patient satisfaction, stronger patient retention and more patient referrals.

For more about Patient Retention, Patient Referrals and growing your professional practice, check out our 8- set CD series, "27 Proven Marketing Strategies to Boost Your Practice Profits," or give us a call today at (800) 656-0907.

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