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Ramsey: How medical manners affect patient satisfaction

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.

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 their staff, they are more likely to become longtime loyal customers. Yes, patients are customers, too.

If your patients aren’t coming back, it may not be because they have recovered.

It may be that they went somewhere else where they were treated with more courtesy.

Good manners and proper etiquette can also lead to improved patient outcomes. It stands to reason that a happy patient is a healthier patient.

If everyone in a physician’s practice takes the time to make patients feel comfortable and at ease, those people on whom you rely to build your practice will come back time and again and they will refer others.

Kindness, courtesy and respect are the right treatment for all patients. No one is allergic.

Let me suggest 12 basic rules of etiquette that can have a positive effect on patient satisfaction and outcomes:

1. Stop, look and listen. This rule does not simply apply to railroad crossings. It has great value in a physician’s office. While doctors can rarely spare as much time with patients as they once did, the people they treat need not wonder if their doctor is wearing a stopwatch or has set an alarm on his smartphone or on his Apple watch. Slow down. In some instances, stop. You’ll get the time back later.

2. Make eye contact with patients while talking with them. Although it is sometimes hard to give the patient your direct attention while managing the requirements of technology, focus on the patient and not on your computer. Look at patients when they are responding to your questions. Pay attention to their body language as well as their vital signs. If your computer is positioned in such a way that you must turn away from the patient, get a laptop or reconfigure the computer’s placement.

3. Smile. Nothing puts people at ease more than the act of smiling. It takes little effort.

4. Listen. That should not be a novel idea. When you ask the critical questions, pay attention to the answers. Make sure you understand and let the patient know you heard them. 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 miss valuable information when you make assumptions about what your patient is saying. Besides, it is very discounting.

5. Practice professional meeting and greeting. From your initial encounter with a patient, show warmth and friendliness. Honor people by shaking hands. You can always wash them afterwards.

6. Use the patient’s name immediately. Address people by their title and last name until you receive permission to call them by their first name. While some people prefer informality, others could be offended, especially older patients.

7. Introduce yourself. That may sound silly, but don’t make people guess if you are the doctor or maybe another member of the staff.

8. Let patients know what to expect next. After you leave the room, who will appear? What is going to happen? Who will give follow-up instructions?

9. Allow time for questions. Stop yourself from running out the door without giving your patient time to voice concerns.

10. Pay attention to how you dress. Most physicians present a professional appearance, but some have been drawn into the business casual mode. Even if you choose to ditch the white coat, your appearance should be impeccable — neat, clean and pressed.

11. Know what goes on in your office at all levels. You may not think it is your job to know to know what your patients experience from the time they walk in your front door, but it is. Perhaps you hired an office manager for that. But once again this is no time to make assumptions. Ask for feedback from your patients and even other staff.

12. Invest time and money in training your employees in the importance of soft skills and customer service. 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 about where they go for their medical care; you want that to be 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 and products. More business etiquette information is available in her best-selling books Manners That Sell – Adding the Polish That Builds Profits and in Lydia Ramsey’s Little Book of Table Manners.

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