Promoting your practice to attract new patients is (or should be) part of your ongoing business plan. Advertising in the yellow pages or local newspaper, having an up-to-date and user-friendly website, and offering educational seminars are all good ways to make patients aware of the services you provide. That said, the most effective and least expensive marketing tactic you’ll ever use is consistently delivering superior service. In doing so, you build loyalty and retain the patients you already have, and enjoy word-of-mouth referrals from those satisfied patients.
Today, since so many of our activities are technology dependent and life moves so quickly, when you deliver highly personalized service, it will get noticed. Here are some do’s and don’ts that will help you give patients a “wow” experience.
DO have a real person answer every phone call. Yes, an automated system saves staff time, and in large practices it may be necessary to use one. But, if at all possible, have your phones answered by courteous, helpful, competent employees who genuinely care about the needs of your patients.
DON’T let more than a couple of hours go by before returning patient phone calls. If doctors or back office staff use voice mail to receive patient messages, either they or a designated staff person should check those messages and return calls promptly, even if it’s only to say, “We’re waiting for the answer to your question, and we’ll get back to you soon.”
DO make it easy for patients to see and communicate with doctors. All too often, patients get the impression that staff members are somehow “protecting” providers from their own patients. Keep openings in the schedule for urgent appointments and phone consultations, and be flexible on the definition of “urgent,” which can sometimes mean accommodating a patient who is not seriously ill, but rather anxious or fearful and in need of reassurance.
DON’T make patients wait. This is the #1 complaint that patients have about doctors’ offices. If anyone is made to wait more than 10 minutes in the reception area or 5 minutes once they are in an exam room, offer an explanation. Sometimes delays are unavoidable, and a little communication goes a long way toward making patients understand that you realize their time is valuable.
DO stay in touch with patients throughout the year, whether you see them frequently or only occasionally. Sending out an e-mail or printed newsletter, birthday and holiday cards, or invitations to events sponsored by your office or the local hospital keeps your practice name in front of your valuable patients.
DON’T make patients wrong. If someone is late for an appointment (unless it’s habitual) or less than polite (perhaps because they feel terrible), resist the urge to reprimand or otherwise respond negatively. Demonstrating empathy and compassion pays off in the long run.
DO acknowledge referrals. A short, handwritten note from the doctor when a patient refers a friend or family member takes only a few minutes, costs less than $1, and absolutely elicits a “wow” reaction from patients.