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MANAGING PATIENTS

Make your patients happier with these communication tips

By Mike Rigert

Even though modern patients appreciate the ease and convenience of digital communication with your practice through automated text reminders and real-time communication, we can’t lose sight of the importance that personal interaction has in keeping those relationships strong.

A HealthGrades study showed that patients’ communication with front office staff are primary factors in online reviews—both positive and negative. The research found that of nearly 7 million patient reviews, the most frequently used phrases in negative comments were related to front office staff interaction.

In the busy and chaotic environment your front office staff operate in, it’s easy to forget that patients still expect human connections and quality customer service during a visit. This includes everything from how to greet a patient to individual personal connections that lets each and every patient know that your practice values them and their patronage.

When your staff is trained to treat each patient politely, attentively, and as an individual rather than just as a number, you’ll see more satisfied patients who will post more glowing online reviews about your practice that will increase retention and help you attract new patients. These loyal patients and “practice champions” will help you cultivate a reputation, both online and by word of mouth, that your practice is inviting, caring, and genuinely values every patient who walks through your door.

The following are tips and best practices to help ensure your patients not only get great patient engagement leading up to and after their appointment, but during the actual in-office visit:

Don’t discount the value of first impressions

How many times have you entered a practice office for an appointment to find that every front office staff member is tied up with phone calls, working at their computer, or interacting with other staff? Your only option is to wait, often with other patients in a line, until someone is able to help you check-in. When you make it to the front of the line, do they just ask for your name and appointment time? How are you greeted? Do they look you in the eye?

There’s a lot of truth to cliche, “You’ll never have a second chance to create a good first impression.” And because more patients are switching practices more often, you can’t afford to not make an appealing first impression. Greeting patients with the proper courtesy will set the right tone right from the start and help patients feel appreciated.

To achieve this, greet patients warmly when they enter your reception area. If staff are busy on phones, make it a practice to place the caller on hold momentarily to welcome the patient and let them know you’ll be right with them. Genuinely interact with them, ask about their well-being, and invite them to make themselves comfortable. Above all else, make eye contact and smile.

Talk to patients and look for opportunities to build relationships

Though this may be trickier for front office staff who engage sometimes with dozens or hundreds of patients, many of your patients may be long-time patients who know and trust your clinicians and staff.

When a nurse or practitioner calls a patient back for their appointment, it’s a great time to greet the patient by their name, introduce herself if it’s a new patient, make eye contact, smile, and make some friendly small talk. Patients should also be clearly told what will happen during the visit and why.

Doctors or clinicians caring for the patient should also take a moment to greet the patient by name and find ways to connect on a personal level. If they jump right into the business of care immediately or seem in a hurry, it can make patients feel like they’re not important or they didn’t have time to address all their concerns.

At the point of care, encourage patients to ask questions and interrupt if they don’t understand something. Pay attention to their body language and facial expressions to tell if they’re not following or if you need to back up and repeat something.

These small interactions mean a lot to your patients because it shows them that your staff are willing to take the time to treat each person with kindness and respect. It also demonstrates that you want to continually build upon and strengthen the patient-provider relationship.

Ask about their individual communication preferences

It’s important to be able to reach out to patients with essential appointment messages based on their individual communication preferences. Though an overwhelming majority—nearly 80 percent of patients—want to be able to communicate with your practice through texting, some still prefer email or voice to interact with you.

If you haven’t already gotten a patient’s preferences in their intake forms, check in or check out is a great opportunity to update their information. Ask them the best way to reach them for appointment reminders, confirmations, and other key exchanges. By aligning your communications with how each patient prefers to be reached, you’ll connect more reliably and efficiently with patients.

They’ll appreciate that you care enough to connect with them in the manner that is easiest and most convenient to them. By meeting patients where they are, you’ll also be able to boost confirmation rates while reducing no-shows and late cancellations.

Keep patients safe with “park and text” virtual waiting rooms 

With the COVID-19 pandemic still a concern for many patients, help put their minds at ease by adapting your initial in-office greeting and interaction with them to take place remotely from your parking lot. This is an amenity that many businesses and healthcare practices offer to better serve and protect patrons’ health.

In your same-day appointment reminder to each patient, instruct them to text you from their car when they arrive at your practice for their appointment. This allows them to wait safely in their vehicle instead of in a crowded reception area. Make it clear they will receive a text message when it’s time for their appointment to begin. That way, patients can minimize the time they spend in your reception area. It also conveys to them that keeping them safe and protecting their health are priorities for your practice.

Don’t let them just walk out the door

This is a point where practices often miss the valuable opportunity to end the patient’s in-office care journey on a high note. Unless the patient has to reschedule or make a payment, they typically walk out of the exam room and straight out the door with a word from staff.

Make it standard procedure for front office staff to say goodbye and thank you to patients after an appointment. Don’t leave them hanging. It’s your last chance to connect with them at  a personal level, leave a good impression, and let them know you appreciate the ability to serve them.

Conclusion

While successfully engaging with your patients today requires connective technologies like a patient relationship management (PRM) platform, your ability to relate with patients during the actual visit and deliver a personalized experience is equally important. Your practice can increase retention, get better online reviews and satisfaction survey scores, and attract more new patients by ensuring every patient receives a friendly and attentive in-office experience.

 

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