MDNews - Minnesota

January 2015

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VITAL YET SOMETIMES OVERLOOKED, CONSCIENTIOUS CUSTOMER SERVICE TECHNIQUES MARKEDLY ENHANCE PATIENTS' PERCEPTIONS OF QUALITY OF CARE — AND MAY REDUCE THE LIKELIHOOD THAT THEY WILL SEEK TREATMENT ELSEWHERE. M OST PATIENTS WHO come to a physician's offi ce have little or no medical training. Many also have negligible interest in weighing initial impressions of a practice's courtesy and respect toward them against its demonstrated outcomes. "Patients judge physicians and practices based on all they see and hear around them," says William Pupkis, CMPE, healthcare management consultant and a member of the American Association of Orthopaedic Executives. "All physicians are worried about improving clinical outcomes, and that's important. But when it comes to patient satisfaction and whether or not a patient will share a positive experience with a practice on social media or with a friend, patient perception matters more than clinical outcomes." He is not alone in the view that patients assess more than medical outcomes. "[Front-desk staff] are setting the tone for the entire offi ce visit," Connecticut-based Fairfi eld Consultants notes in a list of reasons why patients leave a practice. "If patients are upset when checking in, they will be upset for the entire visit." Lasting Impressions Implementing clear customer service guidelines among support staff is key to managing patients' initial evaluations of their physician's offi ce, notes Pupkis, who has written on the subject for AAOS Now, a publication of the American Association of Orthopaedic Surgeons. "The best successes I have seen in 40 years working in the medical industry," he says, "have been when we climbed the ladder in terms of individual skill sets of employees working at the front desk and other fi rst-contact positions." Perception-enhancing techniques can be as simple as answer- ing the phone pleasantly or looking patients in the eye when they check in. Train supporting employees in phone etiquette, including no talking with a third party and no chewing while on the phone, limiting the amount of time patients spend on hold, and smiling while talking on the phone, Pupkis advises. Patients should be treated with respect and empathy at every interaction. Culture Change Shifting to a model of care that more fully accounts for patient perceptions requires time, resources and commitment, Pupkis adds, and it starts at the top. "The culture of a practice has to change before any strategies can be put in place," he says. "The physician has to buy in to the idea that the patient is the most important person in that practice, and then others around the physician follow the lead." Pupkis emphasizes that physician leadership makes a noticeable difference in how support staff relate with patients. "If physicians focus on spending a little more money and time — money on wages and training personnel, and time personally spent having conversations longer than fi ve minutes with the staff — then the entire practice gets the idea that patients are important," he says. "The staff gets the sense that our boss has new goals and needs moving forward, and that the physician has good reasons for doing so." ■ Style + Substance = Patient Satisfaction By Melissa Moore ++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++ + +++ + +++ ++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++ PRACTICE MANAGEMENT 1 4 | Minnesota MD NEWS ■ M D N E W S . CO M

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