The patient experience begins long before someone steps into the examination room.
From the moment someone finds your practice to when they leave, ensuring a good experience is a high priority for medical offices.
As the healthcare industry shifts toward a value-based model, it is imperative that medical practices assess their current process and work to improve the patient experience if they want to build a sustainable business.
There are many moving parts to an office visit that all demand attention. Here are a few ways, from start to finish, to improve the patient experience and keep patients coming back.
1) Be Easy to Find
Today’s patients are tech-savvy, and medical practices should use this to their advantage.
Make your practice highly visible both online and off. If you have older patients, confirm that you have a listing in the phone book, work to rank high in search engine results (also known as Search Engine Optimization or SEO), create a well-optimized Facebook page and expand your social media presence using top sites like LinkedIn, Twitter and Instagram. Create accounts on the top online business directories including Google My Business, Bing Places for Business, Yelp, WebMD, Healthgrades, RateMDs.com and more. You can also access this comprehensive list of online business directories to assist with your reach online.
Here are a few ways to increase your online visibility:
- Utilize SEO to rank higher in search engines (Google, Yahoo, Bing, etc.)
- Optimize your social media profiles for maximum results
- Add (and keep up to date) all info to your Facebook page including a phone number, website address and fax number
- Go further with your Facebook page and add information such as a photo of your office and parking information
- Consider establishing an Instagram, Twitter or other social media account
- List your practice in the top online business directories (see list in link above)
2) Make Your Waiting Area Welcoming
As soon as a patient walks in the door, they form an opinion about your practice. There are many ways to spruce up the waiting area which improves the patient experience.
A great first step is to update furniture and rearrange seating. Consider positioning chairs around a table for families, set up space for children to play, and create workspaces for busy professionals to work while they wait.
Use colors that inspire calmness and tranquility. For example, in medical offices, light and darker hues of blue paired with warm colors, such as teal blue and yellow, can help patients feel at ease.
Provide patients entertainment. Magazines and tablets supply an opportunity to distract people from the upcoming appointment. Although keeping the patient’s wait time short is the ideal way to improve the overall experience, providing convenient distractions will improve the wait when necessary.
Update patients about their wait time. Utilize a digital display board that shows where they are in line. For patients who don’t want to stay in the waiting area, send a text message or use restaurant-style pagers to allow them to leave without worrying they’ll miss their turn. Also, investing in software that allows patients to self-check-in from the comfort of their own home or from within the practice itself on their personal devices will decrease friction points during the patient visit.
Create a community connection for the patients. One idea could be to hang a bulletin board displaying upcoming events such as hikes, festivals or upcoming concerts that will help people feel more connected. Consider teaming up with local artists and showcase their artwork throughout the office.
3) Strive for Clear Communication at Each Contact Point
Patients interact with several staff members during each visit and ensuring clear and concise communication goes a long way to patients having a pleasant experience.
Welcoming everyone with a friendly tone of voice will make patients immediately feel comfortable. Even if reception staff are busy when someone comes in, a quick hello lets them know they’ve been seen and will be helped soon.
Always demonstrate empathy when talking with patients by taking time to listen to their concerns. From check-in to check out and every interaction in between, make the patients feel like the medical staff has their best interest at heart.
Actively fielding feedback in the form or surveys and reviews will validate that these efforts are working or not and will allow your practice to make the necessary adjustments.
4) Ensure Patients Understand Next Steps and Follow Up Instructions
Once the exam is over and a patient is moving toward the end of the visit, it is imperative they understand the next steps to take.
Use the same words and language during the visit. For example, some patients may be confused if one staff member talks about high blood pressure and another refer to their “hypertension.” Use simple words, such as “pee” for urine as most patients will understand the simpler form of the medical term.
Give simple instructions. Use visual prompts when available. Diagrams, models or pointing to areas of your own body can help patients understand what you are asking them to do.
When giving final instructions, use a “teach-back” method and have them explain the next steps to ensure they truly understand.
5) Make Check-Out a Straightforward Process
When a patient is ready to leave, make check-out as easy as possible.
Consider separating the check-in and check-out areas, which will reduce patient flow issues and increase efficiency for everyone.
If finances will be discussed at check-out, having a separate space will help patients feel their privacy is of utmost concern and help them feel better about the overall visit. Providing technology that allows patients to pre-pay and handle their patient responsibilities at any time, not just immediately following an appointment, will improve patient experience and patient collection rates.
Patients may think of questions to ask between the exam room and check-out. Be sure staff have basic knowledge about follow-up procedures and can quickly find answers patients have.
Office visits have many moving parts that affect the experience patients have, and their willingness to refer to friends and colleagues. Taking time to consider how patients move through your office will help the overall experience and keep them coming back.