Declining reimbursements, increased overhead, implementation of the Affordable Care Act and the rush to litigation are but a few of the reasons to “sweat the small stuff” in the medical arena.
If you don’t think you need to pay attention to the details when it comes to making your patients happy as well as healthy, think again. If ever there was a time to mind your medical manners, it’s now.
Patient satisfaction is becoming the key phrase in health care. That is not to say that patient outcomes are no longer important. However, it is obvious there is a direct correlation between how patients are treated personally and how they are treated clinically.
Using good manners and following the rules of proper etiquette can make an incredible difference in how physicians and their staff are viewed by their patients. If patients feel valued by their physicians and have positive interactions with the staff, they are more likely to become longtime loyal customers and much less likely to consider a lawsuit if a true mistake is made.
Yes, patients are customers, too.
Let me suggest 11 simple rules of etiquette that can have a positive effect on patient relations and outcomes:
1. Stop, look and listen. This rule no longer applies only to crossing train tracks. While doctors have less time to spend with patients than they once did, the people they treat need not wonder if their doctor is wearing a stop watch or has set an alarm on his smart phone or new Apple watch. Slow down. In some instances, stop.
2. Look at your patients when you are talking to them. Focus on the person, not on the computer screen. If your computer is placed in such a way that you must turn away from the patient, get a smaller device or reconfigure the computer’s placement.
3. When you ask the critical questions, pay attention to the answers. Use good listening skills such as nodding at the person, repeating what you have heard and paraphrasing what was said. Avoid the urge to interrupt or finish the patient’s sentence. You could miss valuable information.
4. Practice professional meeting and greeting. Make your greeting warm and friendly. Introduce yourself even if you are wearing a name badge, which you definitely should be. Don’t forget to give your title or position so patients will know if they are speaking to a nurse, a technician or a housekeeper.
5. Smile and make eye contact. Those two simple actions can make all the difference in getting you off on the right foot.
6. Use the patient’s name as soon as you can while adhering to patient privacy laws. Address people by their title and last name until you receive permission to call them by their first name. Patients deserve respect.
7. Let the patient know what is going to happen next. For example, “I am going to get your vital signs now. Then you may have a seat in the waiting area until the doctor is ready to see you.” That is something that is done in my own doctor’s office. If the patient is to be left in the exam room to wait for the doctor to come in, explain that.
8. Someone should keep track of how long the patient has been waiting in the exam room and check back from time to time. Even a prolonged wait will pass more quickly if the patient sees other humans from time to time.
9. Provide interesting reading material for your patients while they wait. Subscribe to a variety of magazines that you sprinkle around the waiting room and exam area. Don’t leave people in solitary confinement with nothing to do but stare at your diplomas hanging on the wall.
10. Dress like a professional. Most physicians convey a professional appearance by wearing the traditional white coat. The office staff attire, however, is another issue and is sometimes inconsistent or unprofessional. Lack of attention to this can give patients a poor impression and even lead to doubt as to the level of care they will receive. Dress policies should be put in place and enforced by the office manager.
11. Keep office differences under wraps. Patients should not have to deal with inter-office conflict. If employees cannot resolve trouble between themselves, they need to take up their problem with the office manager, not gossip to others in the office and definitely not discuss their issues with patients.
Personal conversations between staff members should take place only in locations where they will not be overheard by patients.
Invest time and money in training physicians and medical staff in the importance of soft skills. While interpersonal skills may not seem as critical as clinical skills in a physician’s practice, without them there soon may be no patients to treat. People have choices in where they go for their medical care: You want them to choose your office.
Lydia Ramsey is a Savannah-based business etiquette expert, professional speaker, trainer and author. Contact her at 912-598-9812 or visit her at LydiaRamsey.com to leave a comment, ask a question or learn more about her programs.