Declining reimbursements, increased overhead, patient overload and the rush to litigation are but a few of the reasons to “sweat the small stuff” in the medical arena. If you don’t think you need to pay attention to the details when it comes to making your patients happy as well as healthy, think again. If ever there was a time to mind your medical manners, it’s now.
Good medical manners and proper office etiquette can make a significant difference in how physicians and their staff are viewed by their patients. If patients feel valued by their physicians and have positive interactions with staff, they are more likely to become longtime loyal customers. Yes, patients are customers. If your patients don’t return, it may not be because they have recovered. It may be they went somewhere else where they are treated with consideration.
It stands to reason that a happy patient is a healthier patient. If everyone in a physician’s practice takes the time to make patients feel appreciated, those people on whom you rely to build your practice will come back time and again and will refer others. Kindness, courtesy and respect are the right treatment for all patients. No one is allergic.
Let me suggest ten basic rules of etiquette that can have a positive effect on patient satisfaction and outcomes:
- Stop, look and listen. This rule does not simply apply to railroad crossings. While doctors can rarely spare as much time with patients as they once did, the people they treat need not wonder if their doctor is wearing a stop watch or has set an alarm on his Apple watch.
- Make eye contact with patients. It is sometimes hard to give the patient your direct attention while managing the requirements of the practice technology. Look at your patients, not the computer. Pay attention to their body language as well as their vital signs. If your computer is positioned so that you have to turn away from the patient, reconfigure its’ placement.
- When you ask critical questions, pay attention to the answers. Practice good listening skills like nodding at the person, repeating what you heard and paraphrasing what was said. Don’t interrupt or try to finish someone’s sentence. You might miss valuable information
- Practice professional meeting and greeting. From your initial encounter with patients, show warmth and friendliness. Honor people by shaking their hand.
- Use the patient’s name immediately. Address people by their title and last name until you receive permission to call them by their first name. While some people prefer informality, others may be offended.
- Introduce yourself. That may sound silly, but people shouldn’t have to guess if you are the doctor or another member of the staff.
- Let patients know what to expect after you leave the room. What is going to happen next? Who will give follow up instructions?
- Pay your attire is important. If you choose to ditch the white coat, your appearance should still be impeccable—neat, clean and pressed.
- Know what goes on in your office at all levels. You may not think it is your job to know what your patients experience from the time they walk into your office, but it is. This is no time to make assumptions. Ask for feedback from patients and staff.
- Invest time and money in training your employees in the importance of soft skills and customer service. While interpersonal skills may not seem as critical as clinical skills in a physician’s practice, without them there soon may be no patients to treat.
People have choices about where they go for their medical care; you want that to be your office.
Lydia Ramsey is a Savannah-based business etiquette expert, keynote speaker, trainer and author. Contact her at 912-598-9812 or visit her website: LydiaRamsey.com to find out how her presentations and workshops can help you and your employees add the polish that builds profits.