Last week, eMDs participated in the MGMA annual conference in Las Vegas. I managed to sit in on a couple of sessions - one of which was led by Joan Hablutzel, senior industry analyst with the Medical Group Management Association. Her presentation made the point that increasing patient satisfaction was critical to the success of a medical practice in an increasingly competitive healthcare marketplace. She recommended taking a baseline to understand where your practice currently stands and to design strategies to improve patient satisfaction based on those findings. But through population health management, she cautioned to "focus on the patients, not the scores." Setting standards for customer service is essential to improving patient satisfaction, Hablutzel noted. The standards may be simple, but can transform the way in which staff interact with patients, as well as boost patient perception of the practice. Hablutzel outlined 30 strategies to improve patient satisfaction, but emphasized that the top 10 are also the simplest and most straightforward things to do. Here they are:
Smile and say 'hello' when patients arrive. This seems basic, but may be overlooked in many cases, if it is not established as an expectation of all staff. "Everyone likes to be acknowledged," Hablutzel noted.
Answer the telephone in three rings with a consistent greeting. And "no blind transfers," Hablutzel said.
Use the patient's name at least once during each conversation. Calling a patient by name emphasizes that the practice views them as an individual, not simply another generic patient, Hablutzel said. Of course, calling a patient by name must be done only when and where appropriate, so as not to violate confidentiality.
Observe the patient's communication style. And respond in a manner that will make the patient feel comfortable. Empathy is critical. It affirms to the patient that you are listening, and care about what she has to say.
Explain to the patient what is going to happen next. It might be the patient's first time at the practice, or the first time for a particular procedure. As Hablutzel says, "forewarned is forearmed."
Listen to the patient without interrupting them. Hablutzel says practice staff can often learn more from listening to patients than from asking questions. "Silence is okay," she said.
Look for cues that may indicate that the patient is not satisfied. Be proactive in responding to situations. If a patient has a problem or complaint, answering 'I don't know' is not acceptable. Find someone who can answer a patient's question.
Respect patient confidentiality at all times. "HIPAA is for real," Hablutzel said. Many, if not most, topics surrounding a patient's visit are of a sensitive nature. Thus, staff need to understand the surroundings in which they are speaking with a patient, with an eye to preserving confidentiality.
Do what you say you will do, when you say you will do it. Set time estimates for patients and update them on any changes. Apologize for any delays.
When a patient leaves, say good-bye warmly and wish them well. If applicable, say that you look forward to seeing them again. This "closes the loop," affirms respect and gives staff an opportunity to acknowledge the patient once again by name.
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