Do we all know the basics of how to make our patients’ visits satisfactory when they are in our office? What brings your patients back to your office once they have been there? What encourages your patients to send their friends, family and acquaintances to your practice? In today’s world of decreasing reimbursements for our hard work, we need to know how to work smarter so it does not feel like we are forced to work harder. Retaining patients and increasing the number of new patients we see can be easier than you think. All it requires is a little extra time and effort.
There are some simple extras you can add to your office. The reception room is your patients’ first impression of your cleanliness and attention to detail is important. Do not disappoint them. You would never consider putting a clock in your reception room but sit out in the room for a few moments and you would soon appreciate a television or at least a radio. (Remember to be selective with the channels.) A coffee maker with simple fixings can go a long way and a water cooler is clean, simple and appreciated. A small vending machine with chocolates and salty choices is a pleasant surprise but be sure it stays stocked and functional. Keep a small trashcan easily accessible. Ensure that the carpet is vacuumed at least every morning and at lunch break. Have someone tidy up the magazines throughout the day. Do not forget to keep the temperature well regulated. Your patients may be sitting for a while in the treatment room with their shoes and socks off so do not let it get too cold and uncomfortable.
Keep the staff’s food and drink out of the patient’s sight. You want an atmosphere of a professional office, not a fast food restaurant. Make sure all food areas are cleaned daily. The most important “simple extra” that may often be overlooked is location, location, location. This is not so  much the location of your office but more specifically, the location of your treatment rooms. Many of your patients come to you with painful feet and have difficulty walking. Accordingly, one should strive to have ample parking close to your building, an entrance ramp and a short, uncomplicated route from the front door to the treatment room. Avoid long hallways and stairs.
If a patient calls for an appointment, the key is to see the patient that same day. We build our business on new patients. If one is calling you, why pass him or her over to someone else? No schedule is too full to accommodate one more patient that day. Once the patient is in your office, see him or her on time. Ask your new patients to come 15 minutes before the scheduled appointment time so they can complete the paperwork (unless they can do it online before they ever get to your office). This gives you time to call the insurance company to get prior authorization before the scheduled appointment time starts.
It is important in the realm of office efficiency that the doctor arrives on time for patient care. It is unfair to your staff and your patients not to be ready to start seeing patients on time. If you do start to fall behind schedule during the course of the day, instruct your staff to bring this to your attention. They can post a sticky note in your dictation area or any other location in your office that you would be able to see throughout the day. If your insurance contracts allow, collect the patient’s co-pay at the front desk prior to his or her office visit. This will help decrease a bottleneck at the checkout desk. It will also help save you from having to send a bill to your patient if he or she “sneaks out” before your staff sees him or her at the end of their visit. Be sure to keep patient due balances to a minimum by continually collecting balances due from patients at the front desk.
Determine what type of scheduling process works best for you. For some, it is seeing one patient every 15 minutes. Some physicians are able to see more and some see less. However, if you are repeatedly running behind schedule, it may be time to reassess your scheduling techniques. Also monitor your office for bottlenecks at the front desk, at the check-in counter during the billing process and the time that it takes your staff to bring your patients into and out of their treatment rooms.
Do not forget to monitor your own efficiency and be sure to focus on your patient’s current concern instead of spending excess time in the room on small talk. Certainly, small talk is important but watch your clock and stay on schedule. We all treat many of the same conditions over and over throughout our day so develop a “canned speech” for these most common conditions that present to your office so your flow is more consistent as opposed to coming across as uncertain and hesitant. Make use of the staff’s training. Instruct them on how to educate patients on their conditions and give them guidelines on answering questions that patients frequently ask. Doing so enables your staff to help decrease the time you need to spend with your patients without compromising patient care.
Your staff likely spends more time with your patients than you do so be sure that you are all working together for the same end result: 100 percent patient satisfaction. Keep your staff motivated, educated and appreciated. By hiring certified medical assistants, you can often expect more maturity in your staff. They will also likely be more comfortable helping you with educating and speaking to your patients. Keep your medical assistants certified in CPR and X-ray technology. This makes them not only more valuable to your practice but it lets them know that you want to invest in their commitment to the practice. Continuing education for your staff keeps them updated and mentally stimulated, which keeps their job more interesting to them.
Your staff wants to feel a strong sense of job security and commitment from you just like you want to feel a commitment from them. Develop a bonus system based on dispensing products sold in your office, new patient generation or any other relevant criteria that is important to your practice. Keep your staff benefits high so patients are part of the team instead of feeling like part of a hierarchy. Benefits may range from a 401k plan or cash incentives to recognition of birthdays or special events in their or their family’s lives. Consider asking them what benefits would be important to them and see if this could work into your plan to keep your staff working together with you.
A motivated staff will interact most appropriately with your patients and thus encourage your patients to refer their friends and family to continue building your practice. Do not forget to recognize your staff for doing this.
You want your patients to be satisfied with their visits with you but you also want them to help build a stronger practice. When your patients do something special such as recommending your practice to a friend or family member, do not forget to thank them for their generosity. A thank you may be as simple as a handwritten card, movie passes or other appropriate tokens.
We would all like to think that our patients are 100 percent satisfied with what we do for them. Podiatric physicians who are truly interested in satisfying their patients will take the time to glean input from them. Develop a patient satisfaction survey. This survey should be simple with yes/no or multiple-choice type questions that are simple to read and respond to. This survey should be administered anonymously so patients will give their true input. Even if the vast majority of your surveys come back positive and in your favor, do not forget to respond to those who are offering constructive criticism. What your patients expect and want from you may be different from what you think they are searching for.
Your survey should have questions for every part of your office experience, from the person who answers the phone at your office to the front desk receptionist to cleanliness to the check-in and checkout processes. The survey should also evaluate whether you are explaining conditions well to patients in a tone that is easily understood and whether you are answering all of their questions. Your patients do not want to feel rushed. They want to feel that they are cared for and respected.
Hand out surveys every six months and compare and review answers. If the same negative responses show up on survey after survey, it is time to reevaluate these drawbacks and correct them.
We all want our patients to be satisfied with their care as well as their overall experience in our office. There are multiple simple steps that one can take to improve practice efficiency and enhance patient satisfaction.
Dr. Titko is a Trustee of the American Academy of Podiatric Practice Management. She is a Fellow of the American College of Foot and Ankle Surgeons, and is board certified by the American Board of Podiatric Surgery. Dr. Titko is certified by the American Board of Podiatric Orthopedics and Primary Podiatric Medicine in podiatric surgery, orthopedics, primary podiatric medicine and diabetic wound care.