Customer service is important in any line of business, even healthcare. Even though it may not seem like it, medical “customers” are different from those in other industries. This is because medical “customers” or rather, patients, do not want to be in the position that they are in. Medical practice or hospital experiences can be rather frightening, confusing, and overwhelming. The average time to see a doctor is around 15-20 minutes and for some patients, this is becoming less and less acceptable. Since healthcare is a necessity and nowadays there are countless medical practices and hospitals to choose from, patients are becoming pickier about where they get their healthcare services.
As a doctor, you are probably well aware that providing good customer service is vital; however, your definition of good customer service may not be the same as another doctor’s. For some, good customer service may be keeping patients satisfied by offering solutions to their problems, while for others, it may be solidifying relationships with patients and presenting pleasantness to represent the frontlines of the organization. In any case, good customer service weighs heavily on specific factors that your customers hold valuable and their expectations of you.
A recent software tool analyzed over 34,000 patients’ reviews of their doctors in the United States and found that customer service is the number one difference between top rated and low rated doctors. Moreover, 96% of patient complaints were customer-service related, while 4% were related to healthcare (quality of care). The most common reasons for the negative reviews were as follows:
- Communication – 53% of customers complained about communication frustrations;
- Wait times – 35% of customers complained about long wait times and waiting rooms;
- Staff members – 12% of customers complained about rude practice staff members;
- Billing – 2% of customers complained about the financial burden of health-related services;
The key to improving customer service in healthcare is to treat each patient as an important individual. After all, you are treating individuals not diseases. In fact, many doctors, such as you, are beginning to recognize the financial benefits of focusing on patient satisfaction and quality patient experience. However, what’s in it for the patient? It all comes down to three things: communication, attention, and respect. Patients who are going through life-changing procedures and treatments want to know that there is someone they can talk to and get answers on the questions or concerns they may have. Moreover, they want someone they can rely on, who will provide them with the proper services and care that they require. No matter if a clinical setting includes 10, 100, or 1,000 patients, every patient has the right to be tended to - from understanding what medication they are taking and the possible side effects to knowing what to do after being discharged. Most important, they always deserve respect.
A large percentage of patients are eager to praise their doctors when they feel that they have been informed, ensured comfort, and cared for. So what actions can you take in order to boost customer service at your practice or hospital?
- Improved communication – Every practice or hospital must keep their patients informed. Being in an unfamiliar environment, it can become very stressful or confusing to patients. Some may not be able to tolerate long wait times, difficulty booking appointments, or difficulty getting back test results. For this reason, it is important that you and your staff members address each patient’s questions and concerns so that they feel better informed and more relaxed.
- Proper medical care – When it comes down to it, every patient seeks good medical care. Good medical care is an important element of good service in the healthcare industry. You can be the nicest and the most pleasant healthcare professional; however, good medical care means examining each patient carefully, reviewing their chart, double-checking prescriptions, and not rushing through procedures. Most important, it means asking, listening, and responding to patients’ concerns.
- Helpful staff members – It is a general rule that staff members should be warm, friendly, and courteous. They should smile, greet patients, and answer any questions that they might have. Sometimes, if a patient is able to receive helpful information or advice from your staff members, it may make them feel more comfortable in their surroundings. What’s more, it can increase their satisfaction with the practice or hospital they have chosen. In other words, it may increase their opinion of you.
- Better organization – Organized staff members are crucial to sustaining a valued organization. You need someone on your team who will be able to keep things in order and handle tasks that come their way so that you have more face time to spend with your patients. In this day and age, knowing how to manage electronic health records and other clinical advancement tools is important in protecting patients’ privacy. Moreover, while long wait times may not always be avoidable, improved communication and better organization, such as letting patients know how long they will have to wait or keeping them posted, can help minimize complaints. Furthermore, make sure that the last individual your patient sees says “Thank you for coming in today”.
- Patient privacy – Privacy is mandatory by federal law. It is important that you do not reveal any of your patients’ medical information and take measures to ensure that their privacy is protected. All paperwork and computer records should be kept in a safe and secure location. If patients can trust you to keep their privacy protected, they are more likely to be honest with you.
- Proper billing services – Health-related services can cost a lot and billing procedures can be rather confusing to patients. For this reason, it is important that your office informs patients about billing practices upfront so that there is no confusion in terms of how much their insurance can cover and how much they will have to pay. Provide patients with invoices, each detailed with the specific services that they have received and the cost for each service. Moreover, put forward a dispute resolution process if a patient decides to dispute part or their entire bill.
- Follow-up appointments – One of the most powerful approaches when it comes to quality customer service is follow-up appointments. Contacting patients by email or phone after their appointment is an effective way for you to show your caring nature and express your appreciation. Today, with several available methods of communication, ask your patients how they would like to be contacted and follow up that way. Every individual wants to be treated with respect, to be properly informed, and to receive quality care. Therefore, by building up excellent service, you can achieve better patient outcomes and solidify relationships.
“I do these things for one simple reason: my patients are my customers. The more customers I have, the better income my business gets. My patients won’t stay my patients for long if my service gets anywhere near the norm for doctors offices. There is a bonus, of course: it’s the nice thing to do. My business model makes being nice an asset, not a liability” said physician Rob Lamberts, MD, in an article published on KevinMD.com
Customer service in the healthcare is a topic that deserves your undivided attention. Given changes in health reforms and health-related services, patient experiences are now more important than ever. Although some patients believe that health care is not a luxury and that they shouldn’t expect superior customer service, this is not true. Quality customer service is something that patients should demand and it is something that they should expect. While the doctor patient balance is different for every healthcare organization, whether large or small; it is up to you how you choose to deliver care. Just keep in mind that you are not only delivering care, but you are also ensuring that your business grows with repeat and satisfied customers.