But patient retention IS important, far more important than in years past. Keeping patients used to mean nothing more than:
- accepting their insurance coverage
- providing service that wasn’t completely terrible
When carriers were footing the bill, and all practices treated patients the same, patient attrition was virtually nonexistent. Several recent developments have changed the rules:
- high deductible plans mean patients are frequently footing the bill themselves
- concierge and self-pay practices are offering darn good accessibility
- an aging population that includes more demanding consumers
So standard operating procedures in many practices even several months ago could lead to a regular exodus of what appeared to be loyal patients. Here’s several examples, with suggestions for “new & improved” procedures to keep patients visiting (and paying) you:
Automated phone attendants blocking patients from speaking to humans
Automated answering isn’t necessarily bad, but it should never take 60 seconds for someone to figure out the correct button to push. Consider having people answer all patient calls, or at a minimum, revise your automated attendant to let patients get what they need faster.
Closed for lunch
Seriously? Many of your patients work, and lunch time is the perfect time to reach out to their doctor. Stagger staff lunches so someone is always available to help.
Hiring the cheapest person available to answer the phones
There is no need to pay more in salary than necessary, but patient-facing staff MUST have the desire and aptitude to be friendly and professional with your patients. Pre-employment aptitude testing, and basic staff training, are really cheap compared to losing patients.
Your front desk resembles an assembly line
Efficiency is awesome, and is a laudable goal. But you cannot sacrifice treating each patient as a unique individual. Health care visits are stressful for everyone, and a little compassion goes a long way.
The doctor (or practice manager) has no real idea how the front desk staff interacts with patients
Let’s face it; you can’t see the forest through the trees. You are so busy, you can’t remember the last time you thought about how patients might view your waiting room, front desk staff, and patient flow. Consider hiring a “secret shopper” every year or so to give you a fresh perspective on where changes should be made.
It is impossible for patients to find out what a particular treatment will cost them
When’s the last time you bought anything with no idea of what it would cost you? Yet practices routinely expect patients to do just that. I’m not suggesting a “menu” or written price list, but do recommend that your entire team understands a reasonable response to pricing questions. The “Are you kidding me?” look from your receptionist isn’t a good plan.
Be honest with yourself. If your local bakery, tax preparer, or coffee shop treated you this way, you’d find someone else. Patients are CUSTOMERS, and they are quickly becoming as demanding of their physician as they are of all other consumer products.
It is good business, and GOOD MEDICINE, to improve your practice’s customer service skills. Good medicine and good outcomes are truly important, but if patients don’t hang around long enough, what good is your clinical excellence?