Are You Focused on Likeability?

O.D. likeability plays a huge role in practice growth and sustainability.


Are You Focused on Likeability?

O.D. likeability plays a huge role in practice growth and sustainability.



As I was eating lunch the other day, a woman I knew in my community said, “We really need to change from Dr. Williams to you, but I have been seeing him since I was born, and he is the nicest man in the world. I know that you are a great doctor too, but he’s like a father to me. We just love Dr. Williams.”

Without a doubt, doctor likeability plays a significant role in patient loyalty and, therefore, the financial health of one’s practice. Tim Sanders, author of The Likeability Factor: How to Boost Your L-Factor and Achieve Your Life’s Dreams (Three Rivers Press, 2006) defines likeability as, “the ability to create a positive response in our patients as we meet their emotional and physical needs.” Although exceptions exist, I’ve found that some of the most likeable O.D.s are also the most successful. (See “Likeability and Lawsuits,” page 20.)

Whether you are a new O.D. or a 20-year veteran, focusing on likeability daily provides a huge return on investment. Here are some tips on how to increase your “L-factor”

1. Make it a team effort.

I recently took my daughter to the dermatologist. The receptionist, her arms crossed, said in an accusing voice, “You have an appointment?” I replied “yes,” and she pointed to a clipboard and shot back, “sign in.” My veterinarian’s office treats my pets better than that. They greet the pet by his name and always provide a treat. My point? Your front desk staff and technicians are the first people with whom your patients come in contact. Thus, your patients’ impression of them directly reflects on you.

The first step to ensuring a likeable team: Hire based on personality in addition to skills.

In my practice, for example, we provide job candidates with a personality test to determine their likeability. Also, I have my team members meet job candidates to get their impression of the candidate’s “L-Factor.”

The second step: Make it an ongoing process by discussing patient/personnel scenarios during staff meetings, providing scripts and repeating this message at every meeting: “Treat patients the way you would want to be treated.” You may even consider giving your employees mirrors and saying, “I’d like you to look at yourself before entering the practice as a reminder that you’re entering a work environment that requires a smile and friendly demeanor.”

The third step: Treat staff with respect and kindness. Inquire about their families; schedule an off-site lunch every once in a while; take them to a trade show, etc. A happy office pays it forward to patients.

Take-Home Points

• Likeability plays a huge role in practice success.

• Several methods exist to increase your likeability.

• Likeability prevents malpractice lawsuits.

2. Step inside the mirror.

Put yourself on the other side of the phoropter, and ask yourself questions, such as, “Am I focused on my patients’ needs or on practice needs?”

Next, find key family and staff members and ask them, “What is it like to be on the other side of me? Give me honest feedback because I need to know whether there are any behaviors I should change to ensure your comfort and my patients’ comfort. This may be uncomfortable for you, but I won’t hold it against you, and I really want to know.” The input you receive may be undesirable. But, it’s important you hear it so you can fix it.

3. Don’t forget the obvious.

Likeable doctors do the small things well. This means entering the exam room with a smile and providing a firm handshake even when crunched for time. A warm greeting puts patients at ease and establishes rapport.

Likeability and Lawsuits

Jennifer Kirby, senior editor

Doctor likeability prevents malpractice suits and results in wins for defendants, reveals various sources.

“People just don’t sue doctors they like,” says Alice Burkin, a medical malpractice lawyer, in the book Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking (Back Bay Books, 2007). “In all the years I’ve been in this business, I’ve never had a potential client walk in and say, ‘I really like this doctor, and I feel terrible about doing it, but I want to sue him,’” she explains. “We’ve had people come in saying they want to sue some specialist, and we’ll say, ‘We don’t think that doctor was negligent. We think it’s your primary care doctor who was at fault.’ And the client will say, ‘I don’t care what she did. I love her, and I’m not suing her.’”

A former medical malpractice insurance claims adjuster turned mediator in such suits found that if the doctor was “amiable, remorseful (not of a bad procedure, but of a bad outcome), sincere and articulate” in providing his/her feelings, a jury was less likely to find him/her thoughtless, says an article in January 2011’s Medical Economics.

Also, ask the patient to tell you his/her preferred name. In the book How to Win Friends and Influence People (Pocket Books, 1998), author Dale Carnegie writes, “Remember that a person’s name is to that person the sweetest and most important sound in any language.” So, by using a patient’s preferred name, that patient is more likely to like you. Even your senior patients prefer their first name and will comment that it makes them feel young.

Finally, before concluding the appointment, ask the patient whether he/she has any questions and whether he/she is happy with what has been accomplished. Both questions tell the patient you genuinely care about his/her interpretation of the information you’ve provided and his/her experience during the appointment. This, in turn, makes you a more likeable doctor.

4. Focus on the person, not just their eyes.

Remind yourself to turn from the instrument, patient record, etc., face the patient, and actively speak to him/her about their visit, test results and treatments. Doing so shows the patient you’re giving him/her your undivided attention, which translates to proven concern for the patient. As changes in the healthcare landscape push us to delegate more to our technicians and spend less face-to-face time with the patient, the experience can still be impressive.

5. Remember the halls have eyes and ears.

Patients see and hear what’s going on in your practice. So, it’s essential you and your staff be mindful of your behavior throughout the practice. Have the mentality that, when you’re at the practice, you’re on a stage, and your customers are your audience.

Putting it all together

Doctor and staff likeability is one of the most important factors in practice growth. It’s more than a “like” on Facebook. It’s about creating raving fans who tell others about us. Increase your L-factor, and reap the rewards. OM


Dr. Dixon practices in Perry Ga., where he sees an array of medical patients. E-mail him at, or e-mail comments to