A new study highlights the magnitude of an ongoing shift in medicine: The “retailization” of health care means excellent customer service is increasingly essential to a successful practice.
The study in The Journal of Medical Practice Management found that the driving force behind low patient satisfaction — as expressed in online reviews — is typically not substandard medical care, but rather, poor customer service.
Analyzing nearly 35,000 Google+ reviews of U.S. physicians, practices, clinics and hospitals, the study found 96 percent of complaints were customer service-related. Only 4 percent pertained to patients’ actual medical experiences.
“The findings ... were not surprising, but the degree of the conclusions was very surprising,” says co-author Ron Harman King, MS, CEO of Vanguard Communications, a Denver-based healthcare marketing firm.
The analysis shows patients’ chief complaints are related to communication and long wait times.
“Today’s patient is much more sophisticated and knowledgeable than ever before,” says co-author Neil Baum, MD, urologist, Professor of Clinical Urology at Tulane Medical School and author of several books on medical practice management and marketing. Dr. Baum says patients expect the same customer service from physicians that they get from package delivery companies, hotels and other businesses.
Staffing good employees
Boosting patient satisfaction requires creating a culture of customer service, King says. That begins with the physician and practice manager leading by example, adds Keith Borglum, CHBC, consultant with Santa Rosa, California-based Professional Management and Marketing.
“If the employer or office manager is rude and abrupt with employees, their employees will ... behave the same with patients,” Borglum says.
He also notes the importance of promptly solving communication or interpersonal issues among employees — especially those having direct contact with patients. He suggests having these employees complete human resources courses — whether in person or online — to improve their skills in dealing with patients, particularly those who can be difficult.
An article published by the Advisory Board, a consulting firm for healthcare organizations, details how one manager at a practice group based in Atlanta increased satisfaction with exam room wait times from the first percentile to the 70th. Once a patient was taken to an exam room, a medical assistant set a clock that was on the wall outside the room. That made it clear to physicians and staff how long the patient had been waiting. Medical assistants delivered periodic updates on the physician’s schedule, and upon arriving, the physician followed up with an apology for being late.
A report released by Software Advice, an Austin, Texas-based consulting company, confirms the wisdom of that approach. It indicates 70 percent of patients feel a personal apology from a physician would reduce their frustration.
Finally, Dr. Baum advises physicians to allot time for patients who need prompt care in urgent or emergent situations.
“If a patient calls with frequent urination and blood in the urine ... and they’re told they have to wait two to three weeks [for an appointment], that is unacceptable,” he says. “Doctors must make time in their schedules to allow for urgencies and emergencies.”