Printer Friendly

Customer service in the medical office.

The importance of customer service has recently become more of a focus and priority for medical practices. Numerous articles have been written on the topic, including one that appeared in the New England Journal of Medicine. At our recent Physician Practice Conferences, the session led by Certified Etiquette and Protocol Consultant, Pam Harvit, "Office Protocol and Etiquette," has become one of the highest rated sessions.

Why all this emphasis on medical etiquette and good customer service? Why should practices be concerned about the etiquette involved in treating patients? Better yet, how does your practice measure up customer service wise?

It's just plain common business sense that any medical practice can ill afford to do without.

One reason for stressing the importance of good customer service in the medical office is based on a very simple economic principle. With changes in insurance plans and the consumer-driven healthcare plans, more patients are paying customers; therefore, they are becoming more knowledgeable about costs. As informed consumers, they are more likely to choose where they want to receive their medical care.

More importantly, lack of etiquette (otherwise known as rudeness!) may actually increase the risk of liability for a physician office. According to a Harris study, a patient's choice to change physicians was often not attributed to the medical care received, but because of rude treatment in the office. Research also shows that happy patients generally are less likely to sue. According to a University of Texas study, there is a clear association between communication/respect of patients and the incidents of lawsuits.

Finally and most importantly, your customers are people first and patients second and they deserve to be treated as such. Good manners and good customer service in the medical office can help to emphasize the importance of patient satisfaction and professionalism among all staff in the medical profession.

Most practices would like to believe that their patients experience the best care in their offices; not only the clinical care, but the care encountered during every step of the patient's medical office visit. Here are some questions that all practices should ask themselves if they want to improve their clinical customer service skills.

1. Is the staff acknowledging and greeting each patient as he/she enters the practice? This is very important as first impressions are lasting impressions!

2. Are patients being advised if the physician is running behind? Often, a very simple explanation and apology upfront will alleviate the developing anger that a patient may experience as he or she waits to see the physician.

3. Does everyone on the staff wear a nametag? Do those who have direct patient contact introduce themselves and explain their role in the treatment process? This is important to the patient so that he/she is aware of the function of each staff member.

4. Does the staff really listen to the patients (even a complaining one)? This indicates to the patient that he/she is important and that the practice cares for him/her.

5. Finally, does anyone on the staff tell the patient "thank you" as he/she leaves? This simple phrase can make a huge difference in how the patient perceives his/her treatment. Remember--a happy patient is generally a more satisfied and compliant patient.

While this list of suggestions is by no means a complete list, perhaps it can serve as a starting point for offices to look at ways to improve their patient relationships. It also gives you the opportunity to see how your practice measures up in customer service.

It is important to remember that quality customer service is becoming increasingly more important in today's society and that patients are your customers. With all the emphasis on state of the art medical equipment, electronic health records, the latest technology and the most highly skilled staff, we should not lose sight of the fact that in the medical office, patients should be the number one priority. Utilizing good manners and good customer service skills can ensure that your staff presents themselves as compassionate and caring professionals who represent quality medical care to your patients.

On a personal note, I recently visited a large teaching hospital where I observed the attitude of the medical staff toward their patients and family members. One of the most noticeable observations was the caring and friendly greetings that were given, from the volunteer at the information desk, patient reception clerks, medical assistants, nurses and physicians. Every patient was treated as a person first and a patient secondly. I listened as patients and families in the waiting area discussed the friendliness of the staff. The positive comments provided a refreshing reassurance to newer patients and their families.

When a physician was running behind, a staff member (always with a name tag) came into the waiting room to give a brief explanation, and advised the patients as to the delay. She assured each patient that the physician would give him/her the same time consideration when he or she went back to the examining room. She offered a restaurant style pager to patients who wished to visit the cafeteria or just wait in another area of the clinic. Finally, as patients were leaving the clinic after their appointments, they were given a friendly "good bye" and "thank you for being so patient with us today." Not surprisingly, most patients were smiling as they left the facility.

As I thought about the overall experience, it occurred to me that much of the patients' experience depends on the courtesy shown to them by the medical practice staff. It would seem that the care and concern shown for the overall patient experience may have a direct relationship on the patient's attitude toward the visit; therefore increasing compliance and the possible outcome of treatment.

It might be as simple as just remembering that good customer service is just remembering the Golden Rule--"Do unto others as you would have them do unto you."

Barbara Good WVSMA Physician Practice Advocate
COPYRIGHT 2010 West Virginia State Medical Association
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2010 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Title Annotation:Physician Practice Advocate NEWS
Author:Good, Barbara
Publication:West Virginia Medical Journal
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:May 1, 2010
Previous Article:West Virginia Health Statistics Center Child asthma survey enables development of state asthma plan.
Next Article:The WVSMA remembers our esteemed colleagues ...

Terms of use | Copyright © 2017 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters