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Every member of the staff should feel responsible for making sure your patients have a positive experience when they visit your office, Diane Peterson asserts. "The whole staff should be conscious of the impact they make, whether it’s the way they are dressed or the expression on their face," says Peterson, president of D. Peterson & Associates, a patient satisfaction consulting firm in Houston.
Patient satisfaction is a team effort, particularly in today’s health care environment, when patient loyalty is a thing of the past in most areas, Peterson says. But in her experience, few practices work with their staffs to enhance patient satisfaction. "I see very few doctors who feel that it’s a team effort," she says.
Patient satisfaction surveys are an easy way to find out what patients think about you, Peterson says. Many professional organizations will provide simple surveys that can give you an idea of how your patients see the practice. When you get information from a survey, act on it, Peterson advises. There are always some changes that can’t be made, but you can take steps to make the problem spots less troublesome to patients, she adds. "Maybe it’s impossible to run exactly on time, which is what it takes to satisfy some patients. But people will be very reasonable if you communicate with them or call ahead and tell them you are running late," Peterson says.
Use the patient satisfaction survey as a way to compliment the staff. For instance, if the front desk clerk is praised by a patient, give her a small bonus. "It will encourage the staff to be more responsive," Peterson says.
Peterson suggests hiring a "mystery shopper," a trained individual who will make an appointment and come in for a visit and then relate his or her experiences to the practice. "Sometimes physicians tend to look at a patient satisfaction survey and say that the patient who gave the practice a bad rating was just in a bad mood that day. But when they hear it from a trained consultant, the same problems take on more validity," she says.
Even if you don’t make a formal effort to measure satisfaction, take a look at what’s happening in your practice to find out what impressions your patients are taking away from your practice. Is the first impression a warm and friendly greeting from the receptionist? Does the doctor review the chart in advance, call the patient by name, and apologize for any delay? Is the billing clerk friendly and cheerful?
Just as reception staff are responsible for the first impression your patients have, it’s up to the billing clerk to make sure the visit ends on a positive note, she adds. "No matter how well the encounter went with the doctor, the patient still has to face the billing clerk," Peterson says.
Warn your staff to be cautious about what they say to the patients and be especially careful not to make comments about other patients. "From the top to the bottom, everyone in the practice should be aware that everything they say, even if it’s just making conversation, has a positive or negative impact on that patient’s impression of the practice," she says.