Archive for the ‘practice development’ Category

Communication Tool to Enhance Patient Satisfaction

Monday, February 21st, 2011

Communication can really break down when a patient or family member is worried or not feeling well.  Add the element of age and hearing loss and that communication pathway is further impaired.  On the provider side, you may be running behind or still thinking about your last patient’s care and deliver instructions too fast for the average 80-year old to find 100% comprehension.

Building infrastructure around the communication process will improve engagement and most likely compliance.  Adding to your communication pipeline might be good medicine as well as good marketing.

Kaiser Permanente has 3.3 million online PHR (personal health record) users.  Recent research has been done by Kaiser to find data to support the theory that greater access leads to greater engagement.  Some of that research will be shared this week at HIMSS but a preview by Valerie Sue at Kaiser, indicates that patients who can use email with clinicians, can check lab test results, schedule appointments, refill prescriptions and review visit information are simply more engaged.  They have an alternative route to communication about their health that goes beyond the fast moving office visit.

PHRs can be a significant tool to empower patients, communicate more meaningfully and help patients take more control of their own health status. Jan Oldberg, practice leader for internet services group at Kaiser, states that there is clear evidence that PHR use in positively correlated to increased patient motivation.  Oldberg also indicates that PHRs have also led to a drop in calls and visits.

Going back to the communication issue in a busy practice.…a PHR can serve as a communication device and help physicians provide their patients with the ability to access accurate and timely information and help their patients keep track of their health issues.  Patients don’t have to rely on remembering everything the physicians said during the office visit.

A Step Toward Coordination

A recent survey conducted by the Markel organization indicates that physicians would also prefer a computerized method of sharing information with each other. In the 2010 survey, only 17% of the physicians queried use a computer-based method for communicating with referring physicians and yet 74% indicated they would prefer a computer-based method when sharing patient information with each other.

The 2011 Markle Survey on Health in a Networked Life also compares physician and patient preference on information dissemination.  Summary findings as reported by the Markle organization indicate:

  • Nearly all physicians indicate that their patients sometimes or most times forget potentially important things they are told.
  • Both physicians and patients indicate important information is sometimes forgotten or lost in their interactions.
  • Nearly half of the public perceives that their ‘main doctor’ is the one who should keep the patient’s most accurate, complete health and medical records.
  • And yet 2 out of 5 physician groups say it is the patient and not the physician who should perform such a role.
  • 15% of the general public believes that no one is performing this role.
  • Both physicians and patients alike believe that patients should be able to obtain and keep a copy of their own personal health information.
  • 93% of the public rarely or never request copies of their health information in an electronic format

The Markle Survey of Health in a Networked Life also has interesting findings on preferences:

  • For physicians, 74% would prefer computer-based means of sharing patient information with each other.
  • 47% of the physicians surveyed also indicate they would prefer to have a computer-based means of sharing records with their patients while only 5% do so today.
  • 70% of the general public favor patients receiving a written or online summary after each medical while only 4% of physician indicate they currently provide patient summaries.

Providing access to a PHR takes the pressure off the office visit communication and provides  tools that can help your patient become more engaged and informed about their own health concerns.  Seems like a no-brainer method to improve upon the patient experience.


Don’t Rely on Intuition, Ask!

Tuesday, May 11th, 2010

You surely do have a good sense about your patients or referring physicians but why not obtain good information in absolute terms?  Having solid market intelligence  is a healthcare marketing essential and enables us to make the best choices in our service offerings, pricing and tactics.  Most of us believe we have a good understanding of the healthcare market we serve.  And while that is true, it is not totally true.

Way too many of us cut the corner of simply making assumptions and neglect to ask our customers what is really on their minds about our healthcare service. We are missing out on good opportunities to continually improve and grow our services.  I often hear the lament of how frustrated primary care physicians are about the lack of feedback they receive from consulting physicians or patients who tell their friends their frustration about the service they didn’t receive at their doctor’s office but don’t tell the people who can fix the problems.

Get in the habit of seeking feedback.  Whether positive and negative, feedback, can help tune work processes and services to better suit your current and future patients/customers. Obtaining feedback can move your healthcare organization from ordinary to extraordinary.

Varying Methods of Collection

There are many different ways to obtain the feedback.  There are several different on-line services that you can use such as SurveyMonkey or PollDaddy. Using such a site will help you create a survey of any size with the option of conducting analysis once the data is collected.  Or consider creating a quick survey on your website asking key questions or instill a face to face feedback moment at the end of a visit – give them a form or ask them to meet with one of your staff members to go over some service oriented questions.

Questions to Ask

Once you are in the habit of seeking feedback from your customers, you will seek out input on a variety of things.  Typically you will want to know about how your service is valued, what are road-blocks in the delivery of that service?  What can be done better and what is already done well.  Your questions will reflect what your interests are but here are some example questions:

  • How old are you? (knowing this information can help you tailor the delivery of your service based on generational differences.)
  • Why did you choose us as your service provider?
  • How long did you have to wait before you were provided with an appointment?
  • How would you rate your overall satisfaction with our service?
  • How would you rate the overall customer service you received?
  • Did you consider any alternatives to our service? If so, how did you make your decision?
  • Are you familiar with our website? (This can lead to several other website questions)
  • What do you wish was different about our practice/service?
  • Would you recommend us to your friends and family?  Why/why not?

The Last Thing to Consider

What do you do with the data once you have collected it?  Be sure to systematically analyze the information you are receiving.  Set up studies so you can chart improvement and catch problems early on. Thoroughly review data to determine if you should change services, personnel, customer service efforts. Your patients are a great source of insight for your continued and future success as a healthcare provider.


Workflow That Signals Your Healthcare Organization is Working to Better the Relationship with Your Patients/Physicians (Part 5 of 5)

Thursday, February 11th, 2010

The goal is a deeper relationship with the consumer.  We have been discussing creating customer value for the last four posts. Let’s go one final step.  Borrowing from the principle that a well-tuned and consumer centric service IS the marketing, take a deeper look at how your organization’s work flow alerts your consumer that you care – or don’t care.

Prior posts have enumerated the value of a customer relationship management (CRM) systems and how important your front line personnel are to enhancing your relationships.  Go a little further in your thinking and look at your entire work flow process but do it from the eyes of your consumer.  “Mystery shop” your own service and see how it feels to be the referring physician or the patient.  What are the gaps in service?  Do all of your employees recognize that their primary goal is to make the consumer feel good? Are there clogs in the process?  Does the patient or the physician have an easy vehicle in which to make suggestions?  Is your service fixed or do you recognize the need for constant refinements?

Intense competition makes it harder for healthcare organizations to keep their consumers satisfied and loyal. Simply put, better service results in happier physicians/patients which results in repeat business and increased revenues. Use your workflow to enhance the consumer’s experience and to make them happy.  Don’t get caught in the trap of focusing on the business goals that are pressing but make sure you have the basics being met for your patients and physicians.  Is your workflow process focused on achieving the organization’s business objectives and less concerned with improving customer relationships?

Look at your process by first identifying customer needs. Consider what work should be done, who should do it and if there is technology that can support the work and make the process more efficient.  Keep in mind that the healthcare consumer is more informed and wants to be more involved in the process.  The patient who listens and follows the doctor’s suggestions without questioning is less and less common.

You may be tempted to tweak your process here and there but consider a strategic look at the entire process and how it feels from your consumer’s reference point.  If you examine the who, what and where of your operations, you might be pleased and surprised by the changes you can make.


Creating Relationship Value through the Patient Experience (Part 3 of 5)

Thursday, January 21st, 2010

How high have you set the bar of satisfaction for the patient experience?  Here are what some other healthcare organizations are saying on their websites, this January (2010) about their view of the patient experience:

Cleveland Clinic

“Patients are the purpose of our work, and Cleveland Clinic has embarked on an ambitious plan to examine and improve every facet of the patient experience. This effort encompasses every point of contact between patient and provider, from parking to prescription pick up.”

Johns Hopkins Health System

“Our quest for excellence isn’t limited to the treatments we provide. Several initiatives are under way at Hopkins to help physicians, nurses and staff to deliver the best possible service to customers.”

Gettysburg Hospital

“Gettysburg Hospital is ramping up its commitment to patient satisfaction with the aid of a qualified specialist. Tracy Lee joined the hospital last September as director of patient experience. Lee tracks patient satisfaction survey results and develops strategies for improvement.

Lee explained that many health systems have placed renewed emphasis on patient satisfaction in recent years.  A federally mandated consumer survey known as HCAHPS—the results of which are available to the public—has driven that trend.

“We all know what it’s like to either be a patient or have a loved one in crisis, and I enjoy helping make that experience a better one,” she said.”

These three organizations could not be more different from one another. And yet is placing special emphasis on the patient experience.  Each of them are defining that experience as beyond taking care of a patient clinically:

  • “…every point of contact between patient and provider.”
  • “Excellence isn’t limited to treatments we provide.”

When a patient visits the hospital or a doctor’s office, that individual experiences a series of events that often overshadow the actual contact with the medical provider. On a recent medical visit , I spent 15 minutes with the physician and 45 minutes “in process” once I entered the office – time at reception, time in the waiting room, time with the med technologist, time waiting in the exam room and time checking out after the visit.  It is easy to see how a good interaction with the physician can be overtaken by less than stellar service interactions.

You have heard me say that service is the marketing and that phrase is so true when it comes to the patient experience.  If you patient leaves happy, they will consider the experience positive and likely share that with their friends and family.  They will probably want to be your patient for a long time and will refer others to you. Their positive experience will create a long-lasting relationship value for them.  If your patient leaves grumpy, none of these good things happen.  In fact, a patient is more likely to share bad service news than good news and in telling their friends and family, you are on your way to a poor reputation.

So, think about, how high is your patient experience bar?


What Do Your Patients Think?

Saturday, November 7th, 2009

Most physicians I work with believe they know their patients well.  And they do.  But they know mostly about their patients’ health because when time is precious, the focus has to be on your patients’ health and well-being.  But what do your patients think about the service your practice provides?  Does a long-time patient feel known when they walk in the door and welcome?  Do they feel comfortable calling and talking to a staff member about one of their concerns? Do they love you but get grumpy with your office staff?

When we survey patients, our client physicians are often very surprised to learn what their patients are thinking about their service.  Whether it be the reading material in your office, the dated décor in your waiting room or the abrupt nurse who sets them on edge when she is taking their blood pressure, your patients have opinions.  Sometimes these opinions are shared with you but most often, they are shared with someone outside your practice.

While it is a good idea to do a service check periodically (mystery shopping!), having a systematic intake process for your patients is good business.  Collect your patient’s email address and send them a survey or a link to a survey post visit.  Having data can keep you on top of service bumps before they impact your bottom line.

Surveying your patients can turn up interesting information – perhaps parking is a problem at your building, or your new office is hard to find and signage is non-existent, or they have to wait too long in your waiting room or maybe they are wondering why they have to complete that paper form every time they come to your office.

Patients are changing and you want to be able to change with them to meet their expectations.  Keeping track of your patients and their preferences and concerns helps you provide better service to new and existing patients.  You want to make service corrections before you lose patients or fail to attract new ones.

Your goal is to provide quality health care to your patients, but you can’t leave out the fact that your business is service-oriented.  Surprisingly, many aspects of a physician practice have to do with customer service.  From a patient’s point of view, the little things do matter.  By incorporating a simple follow-up survey into your routine, you are alerting your patients that the little things and the big things also matter to you. Give them the signal that you do care about them and are working to make your relationship with them positive.  At the same time, you will be collecting feedback that can help your overall service delivery be noteworthy.


The Patient Experience – First Impressions

Sunday, November 1st, 2009

My neighbor shared with me her recent experience of investigating a new primary care practice.  She was somewhat dissatisfied with her current provider and thought she would “stop by” another practice and just get a feel for the service.  She told me that she never even compared the two physicians or the medical service because she stopped short at the reception desk.  The receptionist hardly greeted her and was not at all friendly.  My neighbor went no further.  She told me that she likes the friendly greeting she receives at her current physician’s office and the warm welcome she receives whether on the phone or in person makes enough of a difference for her to stop comparing.  She made her choice based on the receptionist not the physician.

As a health care worker, you are probably shaking your head and saying to yourself that this patient doesn’t know what is important and wondering why my neighbor would decide on a service provider based on something so trivial?!  The thing is you have a broader concept and more information than my neighbor.  You might well chose your physicians based on their medical reputation but most people can’t or don’t base their decisions on medical aptitude.  They don’t have the knowledge to easily make that assessment so their selection criteria ends up being more superficial and typically service oriented.

As the medical provider, you can do one of two things:  1) be smug and feel sorry for my neighbor and the thousands of other people like her and do nothing to help them get past this first impression snafu or 2) you can recognize that there are a few hurdles that need to be met so that my neighbor and others are not stopped short of the actual medical service.

I hope you choose option two.

The first few minutes a prospective patient has in your office sets the stage for the future with that individual. You want to help that individual get past the greeting and feel good about what is to come next.  Think about the routine that happens in your office when a new patient comes in for the first time.  Are they “routinely” greeted and given a clipboard with your patient form and asked to sit down and complete the paperwork?  This is the standard in most offices.

What would happen if your office personnel changed their routine and treated that newcomer as a guest – someone special – who deserves attention.  Since most people come into the office for a specified appointment, it should not be difficult to greet them by name  (i.e. “Good afternoon, Mrs. Smith, we have been expecting you.”)  And if someone you don’t know shows up, the greeting should be just as warm but helpful and inquisitive (i.e. “Welcome to North Shore Medical, is there something I can help you with?”)

Go past the greeting moment and put your guest at ease.  Here are a few ideas to get you started:

  • Ask to take their coat.
  • Ask if they had any problem with the directions.
  • Provide a brief tour of the office if they are new (this is our reception area, here is our lab for blood draws, patient exam rooms are all equipped with x, y and z and the doctor will confer with your in his office as you will see shortly, etc.
  • Introduce the patient to other personnel, if convenient.
  • Take a marketing moment and stop by the doctor’s diploma and mention that Dr. Smith is board-certified in X and is one of the few physicians who does Y.  We are so very proud of him. (Whatever makes you special is a good thing to share and also by having your staff member relay this information, it reflects on the team-like atmosphere of your practice and underscores the important professional information.  This act reinforces the good decision your new patient has made in selecting your practice for their health care needs.)
  • Offer the patient refreshments.
  • Give them an expectation for what comes next (i.e. “We will be checking your blood pressure and other vital signs shortly, but first why don’t you sit here for a few moments and look at some of our patient education materials while we prepare for you.”)
  • You don’t ask them to complete the paperwork, because you have sent it out in advance so that the team has time to be familiar with the new patient prior to walking into the exam room.

All of this takes only a few minutes and not only puts your patient at ease but might even “wow” them with the difference.  Instead of leaving your new patient alone with paperwork, you have provided an appropriately warm, engaged, professional first impression.  And if my neighbor happens to be shopping by to compare, imagine the story she will tell me and ten of her other friends?


Sources of Influence in Health Care Marketing

Friday, October 9th, 2009

What drives people into your medical practice?  Into your hospital?  A traditional response might say it is how well known our service is or our brand reputation.  Yes, that is correct but it doesn’t tell the whole story.  Your brand is your promise to your patients.  It is as valuable as your ability to deliver on that promise.

But how does that promise begin?  Certainly the service you provide is the number one element in brand development and in defining your reputation.  Historically, this brand was promoted by advertising.  A new doctor comes to town and up goes the newspaper ad with his/her announcement along with the yellow pages ad.

The new family who has just moved to town isn’t going to go to that new doctor because they see the advertisement.  While it might help keep the name in the forefront of the mind, there usually is more to it when someone is seeking a health care provider.

Lee Aase, manager of Syndication and Social Media for Mayo Clinic­­­­ recently presented a talk on marketing and social media elements.  In his presentation, he provided the following list as the top sources of influence for patients choosing to use the Mayo Clinic.

  • Word-of-mouth                       84
  • Stories in media                      57
  • MD recommendation               44
  • Advertising                              27
  • Internet/website                    26
  • Personal experience               24
  • Mailings to home                    18

Sources of Influence at the Mayo Clinic – the higher the number, the more often considered the most significant source of influence in helping a person select the Mayo Clinic.

Again, this information doesn’t mean advertising is not useful but it does show that word-of-mouth and compelling patient stories will influence that new family faster and with greater impact than what your website says or that advertisement in the newspaper.  Think about it!


The ABCs of Referral Development

Thursday, September 17th, 2009

Whether you are a new physician, starting a new practice or a seasoned provider looking to augment your patient base, developing and sustaining relationships is an art form that can only help you. Just like any relationship, you have to spend time and effort and there is no quick formula.

So where should you start?

The Hospital

Seems like it would be a “no-brainer” for the call center and marketing department at your affiliated hospitals to be disseminating your information but this is sometimes an overlooked area. Think about that call center operator and imagine how much more enthusiasm they might provide a newcomer to the area if they have actually met you – the physician? Taking the time to introduce yourself to call center personnel and the individuals in the marketing departments helps them put a real face on their work and also lets them know you respect and appreciate the work that they do. Along these same lines, make sure that the individual charged with the hospital’s website has your information. Ask them if they engage in any social media platforms like Twitter and find out what kind of information they like to have from medical staff members. And, of course, make sure that the public relations teams has a good sense of your services and find out if they have a speakers’ bureau they promote to local organizations. Can you and your service be one of the topic areas of interest?

Practice Partners or Former Colleague

If you are taking over a practice for a retiring physician, make sure there is a hand off between the former provider and you. Letters mailed to all existing patients about the practice changes help prevent leakage and provide you with a solid and respected introduction into the community. This communication process also works well if you are joining a practice. Your new colleagues can send a letter to their existing patients about the new provider/new specialty.

The Medical Community

Go beyond simply providing an announcement to the members of the medical community and get personal. Face to face introductions make a huge impression. Take the time to arrange introductions. Consider who will be most likely to refer to you and get out to meet those individuals on their turf – their offices. You can also introduce yourself to office personnel for in most cases, they will handle the mechanics of the referral and it helps them to really know who you are.

Ask the medical staff leadership to introduce you or call or drop by on your own. And of course, make sure you do send out those announcements to all potential referrers and to any non-physician referring sources as well. To reinforce your presence, send out the announcements first and follow-up with the face to face contact. And then, send out a letter to those contacts thanking them for their time and reiterate the services you offer. This in an ideal time to include a rolodex card with your contact information. In a short period of time, you provide three “touch” points and demonstrate your communication abilities.

Outreach Tasks

You have covered the basics – hospital promotion centers and the medical community. But don’t stop there! In order to develop relationships, you have to be out in front of people. Help them get to know you by some of the following actions:


· Offer an Open House in your new office for referral sources.

· Offer an Open House with a health twist for the community – free screening or healthy check-list.

· Participate in CME lectures.

· Partner with a fitness center or health spa and provide a service screening.

The Real Basics – Don’t Overlook

Once you start getting referrals from providers, make sure you are worthy. Worthy? This goes beyond provide good care for these patients. You need to make sure you provide easy and convenient access for your referral sources. If they need to talk to you, make it easy for them to do so. Instruct your office staff to be warm, friendly and HELPFUL. One unpleasant conversation with you or a staff member can turn a referral source into a non-source and they won’t come back.

Close the loop once the patient has been seen. This is an easy quid pro quo (this for that) that must be done. If a referring provider sends you a patient, be sure to call them/email them/fax them and tell them what happened with THEIR patient. Make sure they are the first to hear the news. Make them feel like a partner in the care and tending of THEIR patient.



Who Are Your Connectors?

Tuesday, September 8th, 2009

Who is spreading your idea? Seth Godin asked this question in a recent blog post. Seth makes the point that in order for ideas to spread, there has to be conveyances for that spreading.

Too often in healthcare, especially with medical practices, the conveyance is advertising. It is in fact, the most tradition form of promotion and therefore is the first one that people think of when they want to promote their idea or new service. More recently, the concept of viral marketing has taken some attention and the hope and desire that you can gain great awareness via people spreading your good news is attractive to many because it seems so cost effective.

We almost always encourage our clients to limit the expensive advertising efforts in exchange for testing other methods. Of course, if you are a physician, developing your referral channels takes relationship marketing to a new level. But let’s save that for another blog entry.

If you want to reach out to potential patients, one method (not THE method for we recommend trying a variety of endeavors to build your practice base) is the reach out to those “connectors” in your targeted community. Who are the people in a position of referring to your practice to a wide variety of potential consumers? The answer to this question varies on the type of medical practice or service you are providing.

Think about where your patients might come from? If you are a pediatrician, new patients might come from new families in the area. You might reach out to these families via newcomer groups or human resource departments at larger employers. If you offering sports medicine services, the local gyms and fitness centers might provide good connection bases. If you are an endocrinologist and want to build your diabetic treatment options, podiatrists often see many early stage diabetics.

Once you identify the possible connectors, you need to take some action. You want to reach out to these connectors and make sure they know about you and your service. You want them to feel good about recommending you, so you need to spend extra time to explain why your service is worthy of their attention. You might want to offer an open house/info session during a coffee break. Make sure you offer the coffee and snacks. Or you might do something that works with them but also demonstrates how your services are aligned. For example, a new pediatrician might coordinate with the local high school to provide sports physicals late in the summer before teams and their health forms need to be completed. Or a gynecologist might want to work with a women’s fitness center to offer an info session on menopause and exercise. The goal is to bring more people to the connector and to demonstrate your service in the process.

The focus, as Seth Godin relates, is to “find, court and delight the people” – the connectors — who are most likely to spread the good word about you and your service. Once you determine who those people are likely to be, it is then up to you to woo them and help them see the value and spirit of collaboration!


Time – The Patient’s Perspective

Friday, May 29th, 2009

Patients see time differently than most providers. They care about how much time they spend in the waiting room and how much time they spend with you. If you are working on an enhanced patient experience, you may want to consider the patient’s point of view.

Areas that patients pay particular attention to include how long it takes to get an appointment, how responsive you or your staff are on returning phone calls, the timeliness of lab results and the actual time spent during an appointment, as mentioned above.

You should take each of these measurable points and create goals for your office. Make the goals from the patient’s perspective not the office perspective. Most patients don’t like waiting more than 15 minutes. Many prefer to spend more time being seen than waiting in the waiting room/exam room.

You should not just take your patient’s word for it, you should have a good idea on your performance. One easy way to do this is to periodically track the patient flow in your office. You do this by recording the actual appointment time, the patient’s arrival, when the patient is placed in an exam room and the actual time the patient spends with the physician. If you track patients in this way for a week, noting the causes for delays, you will have a data supported picture of how much time the patient spends and where. After you have tracked, determined the average. If it is too high, you need to take some corrective action.

If you have too much waiting time for the patient, look at your scheduling habits. Are you scheduling your appointments with enough margin? Are you scheduling enough time for certain appointment types?

Make sure the time you spend with your patient is meaningful. Patients prefer that providers make eye contact with them versus their chart. Use their name to add warmth and help them feel connected to you. Try to answer all of your patient’s questions and do this without resting your hand on the door knob or looking at your watch. A good tactic is to conclude by asking your patient if they have any additional questions – they feel some closure to the visit and are less likely to feel rushed. Those un-asked questions often turn into phone calls which take more time and energy from your office to answer so best to do it at the visit.

One other very important tactic is to follow-up on questions/labs/phone inquiries rapidly. Your office’s responsiveness will go a long way in enhancing the patient experience. If they believe they will receive a returned call by day’s end as a routine, you will help them feel confident in their relationship. Instruct your staff to indicate when a returned call will take place helping to set the patient’s expectations. If the physician is booked with patients for the entire day, it is important to communicate that the returned call won’t come until early evening. If the call is requesting lab or test results, help the caller understand that the practice waits for the results and when the results are likely to be made available. Again, help your staff to remember that patients might be anxious waiting for information and need careful and patient handling.

Whether providing information, responding to questions or facilitating visits, keep your perspective tuned toward the patient. Your sensitivity will help you maintain good relations with your patients and within the community.