18 Ways to Improve the Patient Experience in Your Private Practice

When you are considering improving the patient experience for your practice, think about this story.

Improving your patient experience is similar to offering a stellar customer experience. Think about some of the best stores or retailers you have ever been to, and what made you remember that experience so well. The exact same principles of consumer-forward thinking which keep bringing you back to your favorite bookstore, your favorite cafe, or some other beloved place can also work with your practice. When you make your patients feel individually seen, heard, and catered to, they will remember you fondly.

How can you apply this same approach to turning patients into raving fans who send all their friends to your practice?

18 Ways to Improve the Patient Experience

1. Demonstrate a Commitment to Their Safety

COVID really brought home the need for open communication with patients. Practices that demonstrated their commitment to the safety and well-being of their patients through a clear and rigorously followed safety protocol saw an increase in patient loyalty – even mid-crisis. Even as the pandemic ebbs, patients want to know you take their health seriously. So if you have a protocol and checklists they are to follow – communicate them clearly and well in advance of their appointment.

2. Minimize Wait Times to See a Specialist

Long wait times are patients’ number one complaint. Make sure you have solid scheduling guidelines in place to avoid overbooking providers. If things are running behind, call the patient to let them know so they can come in a few minutes later or at least be prepared for the wait.

3. Express Concern over Their Symptoms

Ask the patient to make a list of any questions or concerns. Send a link to a page on your website telling them what to expect at their first appointment. Provide a form on your website, one that just asks, why did you schedule your appointment and what are your concerns or questions? Once they’ve made their appointment, tell them to use the link to provide any additional information they’d like the doctor to know. Even if patients don’t fill it in, it expresses the right attitude, which is that you care.

4. Demonstrate an Interest in the Patient Experience

Greet the patient. When a patient walks in the door, have your front desk staff stand up to greet them. It’s the courteous thing to do, it’s good for your front desk staff to stand up periodically, it demonstrates an interest in the patient, and makes them feel important. I don’t know about you, but I hate it when I go to a doctor’s office, and the welcome is done by someone sitting behind a counter who asks my name and then hands me a clipboard of paperwork to fill out. When you do that, you make the patient feel unimportant and like a cog in your patient factory.

5. Start a Conversation with Patients and Caregivers

Communicating with patients is a crucial part of the overall patient experience. If they are already a patient, have the front staff greet the patient by name. If they aren’t, ask for their name and how they can help. Then, whoever is speaking to the patient…take the important step of demonstrating an interest in them by starting a conversation.

Ask them how their day is, how their drive to the office was, or what they thought about the local high school football team winning last night. Ask for their opinion on something, to get a conversation going and treat them like you would a friend who walked into your house. (Here are more ideas to improve the doctor-patient relationship.)

6. Make the Patient Feel Comfortable

Instead of starting the patient experience with paperwork, first, help the patient get comfortable.
Have your front desk staff come out from behind their desk, walk over to the patient, touch their elbow, and show them:

  • Where to hang their coat,
  • Where they can find a Starbucks-level cup of coffee,
  • Where the freshly-baked chocolate chip cookies are,
  • Where the bookshelf of free paperbacks is they can borrow (in our town you can grab these at the transfer station for free or from the library).

7. Make the Waiting Area Comfortable for Patients

In addition to adding amenities like coffee, cookies, and nice reading materials, take a look at your waiting area and see what it says about your practice. Is it designed to make your patients comfortable? Or are there plants dying in the corner from neglect? Is there soothing music, or is CNN loudly covering the latest breaking news? Are the chairs comfortable, or are they hard as a rock and made of chipped acrylic? Are the colors sterile, or are they warm and inviting?

8. Minimize Bureaucracy – This Is Crucial to the Overall Patient Experience

Nothing is more frustrating to patients than to have to provide the same information over and over before they even get to see the doctor. If you’re still asking patients to fill out physical, paper forms, chances are they have to write out their name, address, insurance information multiple times. I’ve even been to doctors’ offices where they request you spend 15 minutes filling out paperwork online, only to ask you to repeat the same paperwork in the office so there is a witness to your signature. Given I thought I’d already completed the paperwork, I hadn’t brought my reading glasses, making filling it again that much more annoying.

Review your patient’s experience as if you were the patient. If you’re copying or scanning their insurance information into the computer, is it necessary to ask them to hand-write that information on multiple forms? Can you switch to a digital system where you auto-fill responses you already know so they just have to confirm the information is correct?

9. Help the Patient Complete Paperwork

Once you’ve made the patient feel welcome, ask for their insurance card, hand them the clipboard along with a pen, and explain what they need to fill out and what to do once they’ve filled in the form. Then, let them know if they have any questions at all, that you’re available to help.
After the patient has completed the paperwork:

  • Tell them where the magazines are, mention any recent articles of interest,
  • Let them know who the provider they will be seeing is.

10. Manage Patient Expectations

Explain what they’ll be doing with the provider and how long the wait will be. Map it all out so the patient has an understanding of how they will be spending the next 30-60 minutes.

Demonstrate basic courtesy like telling them they should bring some reading material into the exam room if they’re going to waiting more than a couple of minutes. Then, if the patient is new, when the provider is ready to see them, introduce them to the patient. These small steps go a long way to making the patient feel comfortable.

11. Make the Patient Feel Important

Patients’ perception is practitioners are trying to rush through their office visit. One simple way to alter this perception is to sit down when asking patients questions. This small gesture makes the patient experience more comfortable and they feel they are being listened to.

12. Demonstrate Empathy for How They Feel

Yes, 75% of patients’ perception is that their physicians lack empathy. If patients truly believe you care, they are willing to overlook a multitude of mistakes and much more likely to accept your recommendations. Use questions to get patients talking about themselves. Over 51% of patients felt their relationships with their doctors could be more personal.

Increase patients’ perceived value of services provided. 62

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