It’s a natural consequence of our field that many of the people we meet may not be at their best. Patients often come to us ill, in pain, tired, and worried. While most people cope admirably, sometimes tempers fray and doctors, nurses, and support staff bear the brunt of patient frustration. From the view of practice management, what can you do to ease the tension brought on by unhappy patients?
It’s obvious, but it bears repeating. We all want the best for our patients and try to keep their emotional state in mind, but it can be difficult to access your empathy in the heat of the moment when confronted with an irate patient. Training in positive communication skills, reflective listening, and strategies for de-escalating difficult situations will give your staff confidence and prepare them to respond with kindness and courtesy every time. Once a patient feels listened to, understood, and respected, they are more likely to relax.
Wait times are a common flashpoint for stressed patients. Letting patients know ahead of time when you’re running far behind is an easy move that will pay dividends in patient satisfaction. Informed patients will have less time pressure and more comfort, which means that once they do come in, they’ll be in a better mood. If the delay really doesn’t work for them, they also have the convenience of rescheduling the appointment, which will in turn lighten your load for the day.
For those already waiting, it’s important to provide timely updates about what’s going on and what can be expected. Physically coming into the waiting room to share information and apologize for the inconvenience is an important personal touch and will be appreciated.
Use technology to increase efficiency
Shorter wait times may seem like an elusive goal, but by making smart technology choices, you can shave vital minutes off waiting room delays. Give patients the option to download and complete forms at home. Consider using Electronic Health Records and a patient portal which will help them prepare for their appointment, as well as help you centralize all the information you need and save you valuable time. Staying on the cutting edge of technology isn’t always a priority in practice management, but if you can invest a bit of time in research, you may come across solutions that could revolutionize your operations and improve the patient experience for everyone who visits your office.
While medical practice management usually focuses on the nuts and bolts of running an office, the choices we make have a direct impact on the patient experience. Technology, training, and good planning can make a huge difference for your staff, your practice, and even your most impatient patients.