What Diagnosis Have Your Patients Made About You?
Ideas on tracking how you rate with your patients.
By Chris Wroten, O.D.
Every day in clinic, we walk into our exam rooms, interact with patients, and make determinations about what we’re dealing with — both clinical diagnoses and assessments about our patients’ personalities. But it’s easy to forget that our patients are constantly evaluating us, our office policies and procedures, our staff and our clinic facilities. Collectively, their assessments form our professional reputation, and there’s nothing more vital to our success than what patients think of us.
No matter how much we spend on marketing and public relations, facilities improvement and staff training, if a patient has a poor perception of the doctor, it goes without saying that he’s much less likely to return for future appointments. Some might argue that business acumen or a specific clinical skill set is more important to our success. Those are valuable and contribute to the ultimate success or failure of a practice, but without a solid reputation in our communities, we’ll never maximize our professional potential.
Follow the Golden Rule
When setting up policies and procedures, the golden rule is always a good litmus test to ensure we’re going in the right direction. Are we treating others the way we want to be treated? Further, what characteristics or attributes do we value most when selecting our own doctors?
• Clinical competence
• On the cutting edge of new treatments/techniques/technology
• Confident persona
• Compassionate bedside manner
• Timely and efficient exams
• Professionally ethical
• Easy to talk to and a good listener
• Concise, honest opinions and recommendations
It’s a subjective question, but let’s come up with our top three answers and ask: “Do we represent those characteristics to our patients?”
Perhaps, even more importantly, how do our patients perceive us, and how do we know what their assessment is? It’s absolutely crucial that we know the answer to that question, so let’s discuss a few obvious (and maybe not so obvious) ways to determine the collective perceptions our patients have formed about our practices and us.
As the old saying goes, we were given one mouth and two ears, so we should listen twice as much as we speak. Specific things to listen for include:
• The way staff members interact with patients on the phone and in person (be sure to provide customer service training for all office members);
• How do patients hear about us? (word of mouth, advertising, online search);
• What hints do patients drop in the office about their experience (was their wait too long? are they informed about their insurance? are they commenting about a part of the facility that needs repair? was there an interaction with staff or a particular policy or procedure that wasn’t well received?);
• Patient’s responses to questions at the end of the exam. For example, we should ask how else we can help them, then listen attentively to their answer);
• Input from various staff members about what patients say about their experiences in the office (for example, appointment scheduling; check-in; technician/work-up; doctor interaction; optical; check-out).
The Secret Patient
A time-honored method for determining how your office is perceived is to have a friend, family member, or consultant go through the process of scheduling an appointment and undergoing an exam without the staff knowing who they are. Then, the ‘unknown’ patient provides a written report of his experience from start to finish. This feedback can be priceless for identifying areas for improvement, for rewarding those who go above and beyond the call of duty and for evaluating how your staff members interact with doctors and patients from an outsider’s point of view.
Consider subscribing to a service that automatically sends patients a customized survey within 24 hours of their appointment, or create your own digital or hard copy survey to solicit feedback from patients after their exams. The option to complete the survey anonymously should be offered. Also, be sure when a patient responds, he is thanked for his input and any areas of concern or suggestions for improvement are acknowledged and appropriately followed up on. Some practices offer incentives to increase response rates (discounts on first or second pairs of sunglasses or frames, small gift cards, and so on). The survey should be brief and easy to answer, allowing a general assessment of multiple areas within the practice by ranking areas such as:
• Staff friendliness
• Ease of appointment-making
• Selection of frames
• Convenience of office hours
• Quality of care provided by the doctor
• Timeliness in which you were seen
A good closing question is always “Would you recommend us to others?” and/or “Will you return to see us?” There should be at least one open-ended question to allow for unguided comments or suggestions for improvement.
Lost to Follow-up?
Staff members should call patients who haven’t been to the office in the past 2 to 3 years to say, “We noticed we haven’t seen you in a while and just wanted to check in. If there’s anything we can do for you, or if you have any suggestions for how we can better care for you, please let us know.” This can be a great source for feedback, as well as additional appointments.
Monitor Online Reviews
It’s important to check posted reviews of our practices online. I recently had a young woman in our office as a new patient who said she’d read through our posted reviews and was impressed with what she’d seen. This was a great reminder of the importance of your online reputation in today’s world. If you don’t have many reviews posted yet, you can employ the same incentive programs used with surveys to encourage patients who’ve had a positive experience to share it, and/or we can post comments shared in the office (either anonymously or first name, last initial). Several companies offer services to help manage your online reputation as well.
Our patients are constantly assessing what’s going on around them, especially the care we provide and how we interact with other patients and family members in the office, including our staff. You can’t put a price tag on community perception. Remember, it’s much easier to establish and maintain a favorable image, than it is to change a poor one after the fact. So, early on in your career, commit to being genuine with your patients and doing everything in your power to make a positive impression. The assessments our patients make about us determine the future opportunities we’ll have with them, their families, and their friends down the road, so let’s make sure we proactively protect and enhance our reputations! nOD
Dr. Wroten is a partner at the Bond-Wroten Eye Clinics in southeast Louisiana, where he began practice after graduating from Southern College of Optometry and completing a Residency in Hospital-Based Primary Eyecare at the Memphis Veterans Affairs Medical Center.