Improve Patient Perception
Pay attention to what you say — as well as what you don’t say.
KELLY KERKSICK, O.D., COLUMBIA, ILL.
As if it were yesterday, I remember an optometrist telling me, as a new graduate, that I was entering a profession that deals with the psychology of seeing, not the science of seeing. While I didn’t understand that statement at the time, it didn’t take many patient encounters to eventually understand what he said.
We need to place a high regard on the psychological, or emotional, aspect of delivering patient care. This starts with patient perception, most of which occurs in the unsaid communication between you and your patients. So often, this is what determines the answer to two very important questions: Will the patient return for your services, and will that patient refer others?
Here are the areas where you can improve your patients’ perception of your practice.
I recently underwent the process of researching the hospital at which I would deliver my baby, and I was amazed at the brochures and information the hospitals sent me proclaiming why It was the best choice. Most of the factors the hospital promoted had nothing to do with the level of medical care I would receive: wireless Internet access, a 24-hour dine-in café, 400 thread count sheets, etc. Even more fascinating were the hundreds of online reviews I read in which patients placed an exceptionally high value on the hospital’s luxuries in addition to how they were treated by their doctors and the nursing staff.
You need to promote the factors that differentiate your practice from your competition (All patients expect a certain level of care, so if your differentiating factor is the ability to offer a good exam, you’re going to get lost in the mix). One way to highlight these selling points is through your website and social media pages. For example, you can produce a slide show on your website with images and testimonials of patients expressing how impressed they are by the luxuries you provide. Be sure to include this on the homepage of the site so it’s easy for potential patients to find. In addition, post photos of these characteristics (where applicable) on your social media pages.
When you offer these luxuries, patients are likely to refer friends and family to you. They are more likely to say, “I had a great eye exam today. You’ll never believe what happened. I sat in my exam chair and received a massage while I waited for the doctor,” rather than, “I had a great eye exam today. I can see 20/20.”
It is important to consider what you want your patients’ experience to be while at your practice, and their first impression of this is often the reception area. Even though we all try to limit the amount of time patients spend there, we want to make sure this aspect of their visit is as comfortable as possible for the length of their stay. This is even more important when seeing children, as parents may not bring their children back if your reception area is not inviting.
• Verbal and non-verbal cues affect patient perception, both positively and negatively.
• Offer those things that make patients feel comfortable in your office, such as wifi or current magazines.
• Promote the luxuries you offer (your practice’s “selling points”) through your website and social media.
Be sure to evaluate your reception area to correct all the non-verbal messages your practice communicates that could negatively effect patient perception. For instance, if you don’t offer complimentary wifi for your patients, they may think you’re not proactive or that you lack in technology. If you don’t offer a variety of up-to-date magazines in your reception area, patients may not have a positive experience in your reception area, which can be a lasting impression. Those who deliver these little things are perceived as delivering better care than those who don’t, whether it’s true or not.
Though it can be a challenge, we need to understand what patients want, including the amount of time they prefer to spend in your practice. Some patients place high regard on longer examinations, including older patients and retirees who tend to have more free time. I remind staff that these visits are just as much social calls as they are exams — since many are widowed or live alone, this is their only encounter with people for that day. It is important to take the extra time to ask them how they are doing, inquire about their grandchildren, etc. They thoroughly enjoy the added personalized touch and, in turn, it delivers a higher rate of satisfaction to the services provided.
For instance, even when I have a positive report for these patients following an exam, I’ll still take the time to say, “You don’t have any macular degeneration, which you may be aware is one of the causes of loss of vision, especially in patients after the age of 50. You also don’t have any cataracts.”
Conversely, my younger generation of patients place higher value on being in and out of my office than they do spending an additional five minutes in the exam room. I communicate differently with young individuals and pay particular attention to the non-verbal cues that they give during the exam, such as repeatedly looking at a wrist watch.
When I see that they may be looking to leave the office soon, I choose not to elaborate on all the details of the exam findings. After a positive exam with younger patients, I simply say, “Everything is great. Do you have any questions?”
While you might not make it apparent to these patients that the duration of the exam is intentional, it’s a detail they will appreciate and remember when they think about scheduling their next exam. We have even received reviews from young patients who have said, “I received a lot of great information, but I didn’t really care.” They want the necessary details, and they will tell you if they’d like more information.
Continue making the patient feel welcome after the exam. One way we do this in my office is by providing refreshments, such as beverages and chocolates that have personalized labels. If a patient is looking in the optical or waiting for an optician, we offer him/her chocolate — the back of the wrapper reads, “Sight is sweet. Thank you for you business,” along with our logo on the front.
These details make a huge difference, particularly with young children. When parents tell us that their children enjoy coming to our practice for something as simple as candy, we know they won’t think of a visit to our office as a hassle when they need to stop in for a frame adjustment. This enables us to offer that personalized touch more frequently, which solidifies the fact that they will be returning.
A lasting impression
Be sure to consider the psychological aspect of delivering patient care when you receive a less-than-favorable Internet review and you think to yourself, “I don’t understand. We had a very pleasant conversation in the exam room.”
Patients judge you based on a variety of other factors, and the days of the doctor winning the race with only their pleasant bedside manner are over. If you think patients don’t care about the little things and the messages that those little things communicate, think again. Not only do they notice, they are telling others. OM
Dr. Kerksick practices at Midwest Visioncare in Columbia, Ill. She has lectured internationally on contact lens science and is a frequent lecturer throughout the United States on contact lens care, practice management, ocular surface disease and clinical communication. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org, or send comments to optometric email@example.com.