Simple ways to impress (or annoy) your patients

It's the height of fall in New England, otherwise known as time to make the doctors' office circuit for non-work-related purposes. And when I interact with physician practices, on behalf of myself or family members, I can't help but make observations. Most of them (positive or negative) aren't significant enough for me to bring up to said offices, but in the aggregate are worth noting here.

Here are some examples of recent hits and misses:

Hit: While waiting in a clinic's reception area several weeks ago, I overheard the manager asking his presumably part-time employees whether they received their flu shots. One staffer responded that she'd have to check her insurance coverage from another job. His reply: "If your insurance doesn't pay for it, I will." He led with this statement when broaching the subject with the next employee.

I don't believe these conversations were intentionally audible for the purpose of impressing patients (and by nature of my job I was likely the only bystander listening), but it hearing the exchanges made me feel good about the organization and its manager. The way I was treated as a customer felt congruently sincere.

Miss: Recently I called the main switchboard to a different physician office. After three rings, I heard hold music. Several seconds after that, a receptionist merely answered, "Hello?" During that time, I first questioned whether I had dialed correctly, and next, what dealing with the rest of the office must be like given the shoddy phone handling. It seems this incident was an anomaly, though, as the other times I've called, the receptionist has answered with, "Hello, thank you for calling Dr. So-and-so's office. How may I help you?" But there's no way for me to know how often the phones are answered appropriately. And if incoming calls do get fumbled more than rarely, how many of those callers wait around? Among those who do, like I did, how does that first impression color their opinion of the rest of the encounter? As someone who calls an awful lot of medical offices, I can tell you that this inconsistency happens far more than most administrators are likely aware--and is precisely the type of issue that practices can easily identify and correct with a little undercover work.

Hit: Upon calling yet another office to provide updated insurance information, I was again impressed that the automated phone tree I used (still better than generic on-hold music) was clear and succinct. The employee I reached--the right person on the first try!--also informed me that the old insurance was still coming up as active. She waited patiently for me to dig up the transition date from my bill while assessing the information available from her side. Within five minutes everything was square and I did not need to make any additional calls to insurance companies or otherwise.

Hit and miss: It also appears that offices are generally following the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's recommendation to hang signage alerting patients of symptoms and precautions related to the Ebola virus. But what kind of message does it send to patients who pass at least a dozen such posters before reaching the front desk? "Overkill" probably isn't the one you want to convey.

As I've said before, details matter. Alone, none of these are a big deal. But they're mostly pretty simple and can make a world of difference to the overall reputation of your practice over time. - Deb (@PracticeMgt)

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