In determining how to satisfy our patients, there are a few groups we can consider to shed light on their perspectives and values. First, we can think about ourselves and how we would like to be treated: Despite our positions on an ophthalmic practice’s staff, occasionally we are patients ourselves. We have sat in a waiting room, interacted with front-desk personnel, been worked up by a tech or nurse aide, and received care from a medical professional—all with a set of needs and expectations in mind. Considering our own experiences as patients can help us to better understand, and thus serve, our patient-customers.
In addition, we can also look to our staff; these individuals are familiar with the ins and outs of the practice and can be a valuable resource in determining how to improve the patient experience. This article details some of the approaches we have implemented to ensure that our practice consistently operates with a patient-centered approach and that our patients feel a sense of confidence in having selected us to provide their eye care.
As an organization, we do little external marketing and attempt to focus our time, money, and efforts internally instead. One of the primary ways in which this is achieved is by making the most of each patient experience and treating people the way we want to be treated. From time to time, we may feel we have reached our pinnacle and that it’s time to shake things up a bit, to throw something new against the wall and see if it sticks.
We could easily hire a consulting firm to tell us what they think we should do, but they don’t know us, and what works for some practices doesn’t work for all. Plus, throwing money out on external marketing and to the consulting firm just wasn’t something we wanted to do. So, we opted for a different approach. We asked our staff members, why do you think patients should choose our office? There are dozens of ophthalmologists and even optometrists within a 5-mile radius of our office, so why us? We were happily surprised by their overall response. We knew how we felt about the practice and our work, but we needed help getting the word out.
We took the staff members’ suggestions to the next level and decided that, based on our employees’ perceptions of our practice, we would use their insight to promote our practice to patients from within. We would plant subliminal messages to our patients through our employees.
The next step was condensing the staff’s feedback into categories, and then into key statements. We provided these pearls to our staff, giving them the freedom to tell our patients what they think about us. As a result, we have the highest patient survey participation ever at 85%. In addition, we have the highest response to the most important of our five simple questions—would you refer a family member or friend to our office?—with 97% indicating that, yes, they would.
ARE YOU MY MOTHER?
We all remember the children’s book Are You My Mother? in which the little bird goes from animal to animal asking each one the same question, “Are you my mother?” He’s searching diligently for his mother, having no idea what he looks like and therefore no idea what she looks like. Although some of the other animals are mothers, they’re just not his.
Believe it or not, this is one training tool I use for my staff. This book signifies the importance of relationships and of treating everyone with the respect they deserve, the respect we all deserve.
When patients come to the eye doctor, it’s generally for a problem. Statistics show that the average person will go to the eye doctor less than 15 times in their lifetime. So, how can we ensure that patients return each year for their annual exams, that they become lifelong patients with our practice, that they schedule their cataract procedure with us, or that they have their long-awaited dream of spectacle freedom fulfilled with LASIK, performed by you?
You don’t have to literally ask each patient, “Are you my mother?” Just treat them like they are and realize the following points.
1.Support the patient’s decision. We all have choices, and if a patient chooses your practice, help them feel good about. No one wants to admit they’ve made a mistake, and if a patient has a bad experience, he or she will think that choosing your practice was the wrong move. As a result of this “mistake,” the patient will be sure not to repeat it and hence will not return to your practice.
2.Listen to understand. We all want to be heard, but even more so, we want to know that our concerns and reservations are understood. This is especially true of the people we trust with our health.
3.Understand to fulfill.Once you learn about a patient’s concerns, you can provide the proper tools to help him or her overcome these feelings, to reach his or her objectives, and to build a trusting, long-term relationship.
4.Consider your expectations. Think about what you want and/or expect when you go to the doctor, grocery store, bank, or even when you purchase something online. How were you treated? Did the care/service provider listen to your needs? Would you do anything differently? Did you participate in a survey and offer positive or negative feedback? How valuable is your time? Those questions really resonate with most people, and we all want the same thing: outstanding customer service and confidence in our choice of provider.
Remember: Every patient who walks in your door is someone’s mother, father, sister, brother, aunt, uncle, or child—and it could be yours. How do you want that person to be treated today?