Winning Customer Service: Assess — Improve — Maintain

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By: David P. Schmiege
By: David P. Schmiege

A well-planned customer service initiative, combined with a professional image, not only differentiates your vein practice from your competition, but it sets the tone for the entire patient experience.

Due to the increased availability of providers offering treatments for venous disease in most communities across the country, patient satisfaction needs to become a high priority within your practice to fend off competition and retain physician referrals. Patient satisfaction should be the No. 1 goal of every medical practice …which leads to clinical and financial success.

Gone are the days when you can ignore your patients and act as though you are doing them a favor by taking care of their medical problems. Patients need to be treated with respect and valued because the majority of consumers now have freedom of choice – they can go to most any provider that they want!

To succeed in a competitive environment, you must display the clinical and interpersonal skills necessary to gain consumer and referral physician confidence. A successful practice commits to customer service excellence with every patient interaction in order to differentiate itself from the competition. Professionalism and exceptional customer service starting with the patient’s first interaction with your staff (phone skills, appointment scheduling, patient registration), sets the tone for the entire patient experience, before the patient even arrives for their appointment!

Your practice’s professional image or lack thereof, can make or break you as far as attracting patients. The most skilled physician doesn’t have much of a chance of success if their practice culture has a negative reputation in the community.

To make matters worse, dissatisfied patients have easy access to the Internet to post negative comments about you, your staff or your practice in general. Negative comments on Facebook or negative tweets can reach hundreds or thousands of existing and prospective patients and have a dramatic effect on your practice’s reputation. It can start a negative slide and have an adverse effect on your practice revenue for years.

 

IMPROVING YOUR IMAGE
What are some things you can do to improve your professional image?

Lead by example with exceptional interpersonal skills with your staff and your patients.

Pay attention to how your staff interacts with patients. While every- one has their own specifics of how they like to be treated, the consensus is that all patients want to be treated like they are the most important patient coming to your office that day! Patients like to know that they are appreciated.

Does your staff answer the phone, register patients, room patients and overall interact with each and every patient they come in contact with in a friendly and appreciative attitude? Do they treat the practice’s patients like they would their own family? Do they demonstrate empathy towards each patient’s situation?

Does your staff thoroughly understand venous disease and available treatment options and are they able to convey that information in a consistent manner, just as you would in an initial consultation? Have you ever tested your staff on their knowledge of vein disease and treatment options available?

Do your employees stop conversations among themselves to greet and facilitate the patient’s visit?

Are your incoming phone lines answered within three rings? Are patient phone calls returned with 1-2 hours? How many days or weeks are your patients waiting for an initial consultation?

Be sure your office décor reflects a clean and professional image. If your office is outdated and worn, your patients may not trust that you are keeping pace with current treatment protocols and medical technology.

Use your website. Be sure to have an up-to-date website that portrays your professionalism and friendliness toward patients. Use video for provider introductions and patient testimonials.

Differentiate your practice from your competition by measuring your image and patient experience with mystery shopping. You’ll learn where you can make improvements that can help you achieve success for years to come!

When attempting to measure patient satisfaction, it is helpful to keep in mind that patient satisfaction has some intangible elements. Satisfaction is a clearly subjective perception of the patient who receives a clinical service. The typical patient enters a medical practice with needs, wants and expectations. The extent to which your vein practice fulfills the needs of the patient defines the degree to which the patient will be satisfied. Relative success or failure on these three dimensions dictates the relative satisfaction of the patient.

Published in 1982, my favorite business book was written by Thomas Peters and Robert Waterman called “In Search of Excellence.” The book explores the art and science of management used by leading 1980s companies with records of long-term profitability and continuing innovation. The message was easy to understand … that certain outstanding (“excellent”) companies outperformed, outsold and out- produced their competitors because they had created and nurtured a uniquely positive corporate culture. Within this unique corporate culture employees were more innovative, more productive, and more responsive to their customers.
The total effect of all of these superior efforts of employees within these corporate cultures was growth where others contracted, profits where others lost and significant successes where others failed. The lesson learned is simple – stay close to your customers. Not only do successful vein practices listen to their patients, many get their best ideas in process improvement from patients and employees.

There are consequences to having dissatisfied patients. If a patient is dissatisfied with the care received at your vein practice and seeks future care somewhere else, their entire network of family and friends may not consider your practice for future services.

As patients talk about their bad experiences, even more people may decide to seek treatment elsewhere. Most vein practices cannot replace lost patients fast enough to stem the inevitable tide of negative feed- back. Quality perceptions and patient satisfaction are closely tied to the profitability of your vein practice. Low perceived quality in any context leads to decreased return visits and new patient referrals, in much the same way as poor patient satisfaction.

Those providers in a vein practice who keep the patient satisfied will see an enhanced image of quality as a direct and immediate consequence. Just as tangible, however, will be the positive financial aspects on increased utilization, market share and profitability.

 

David Schmiege is the president and CEO of Vein Specialists of America. Have an idea for a future article, David can be reached at (630) 992-0060 or [email protected]

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