The patient first visit experience is critical in every practice: tips for a successful conversion
The entire patient journey, which starts from the moment the patient becomes aware of their complaint (pain in most cases), to then becoming a long-term maintenance care patient who is happily referring their friends, has a number of critical points for a chiropractor. Improving the patient first visit and patient’s experience along their journey doesn’t cost a penny, but the patient journey is one of the most profitable business-building activities you can implement in your practice.
Think about great experiences you have had — maybe with Disney or a high-end resort or a local business where you keep happily returning and telling others about it. Did you know you could systematically engineer an excellent experience for almost all of your patients? Of course, it’s not 100% perfect, but even when there are hiccups, those are opportunities to shine when you resolve the issue and make your patients happy.
To start the process, you must start mapping out all the touchpoints a patient may have with your practice, from when they first heard about you, to every touchpoint from your office staff.
The patient journey
Where does this journey begin for the patient?
Awareness of a problem — Before seeking help, your potential patient goes through a triggering event that could be back pain after a golf swing that doesn’t resolve like it usually does, and now this person is aware they may need a different solution than normal. Any mention of back-pain treatment from an advertisement or from a friend before this triggering event would be useless because they were unaware they had a problem. Once this triggering event happens, free or paid media offering a solution to their problem works well. It could be to provide some DIY exercises or could be a special offer for a first visit. A patient referral program also works great at this stage. However, I do not recommend advertising until you fix the other steps that don’t cost you a penny.
Consideration and decision – Once the person has become aware that their back is troubling them and is now considering chiropractic, they search for their new doctor. This search could be by asking friends, their family doctor, or by an online search. The trust in the referral source will start to shape their opinion of you before they even arrive. Think about a referral you received from a good friend who always gives thoughtful recommendations that are good for you. You have had good experiences in the past, so you have a high level of trust before you try their recommendation. If they search for you online, they will look at online reviews, your website, and possibly any content you have online while considering their options. Most look within a specific geographic region, read reviews and look at websites before making a decision.
Pre-visit — Once they decide to make an appointment, you have an opportunity to continue improving this patient experience. Do you make it easy for them? Do you answer the phone? How friendly and efficient was the process? If they are scheduling online, is the process easy? Did you minimize the amount of effort for the patient to pick a date and time and schedule an appointment? If they called on the phone, did the person have a good phone voice? Did they sound happy or annoyed that you called, and did they efficiently schedule the appointment and give clear instructions on what will happen next?
How is the intake paperwork? I see many offices asking far too many questions on a patient first visit, making the process long and cumbersome. Worse, I see many offices giving patients an offline option as their only option and requiring them to show up early for their appointment to fill out several pages of paperwork that the doctor barely glances over. I recommend collecting only the information you need. If the data doesn’t help you diagnose or form a treatment plan, you should consider leaving it out. For example, knowledge about how many live births and miscarriages is helpful to some family chiropractic practices but almost useless to others.
In our office we use software that automatically sends patients our online forms, a map with directions to the office, and a short video tour of the office starting in the parking lot, showing them where to park and what they can expect on their first visit.
We automatically send them a Google Maps link with directions to the office before the patient first visit to help them avoid getting lost. A stressed-out patient in pain isn’t as easy to win over as one who isn’t stressed out.
The patient first visit
Your next and biggest opportunity to make an impact is the first visit, which is critical in the patient’s experience journey.
When they arrived, how were they greeted? We greet them by name, take a photo and explain forms like HIPAA and Medicare in person because it’s quick, and we eliminated some pages from our intake form with this step. Most patients expect to wait once they check in, but we immediately bring them back to an exam room, collect their vitals and then have them watch a short video that explains what will happen on their visit. This buys you time to review their chart or catch up, and it reduces some first-visit anxiety by the patient. You should be mentally present during the patient first visit, arrive at your diagnosis, and recommend your plan of treatment promptly.
During the consultation make sure your patient feels listened to and believes you know how to solve their problem. You must now clearly explain the next steps in your plan. If that is a treatment or scheduling a follow-up, that is up to you, but if you explain what the next steps are and what they can expect, patients will be happy.
Post first-visit and second visit
The post-first visit is another opportunity where you can improve this patient journey. I know some doctors who call their patients after their first visit, and if you’re doing this, I applaud you. I used to do this when I treated patients, but now we have automated this step to ensure it’s done every time.
The second visit is the next step in the journey, and this step can go awry if the patient must wait a long time, doesn’t have an opportunity to give feedback, isn’t listened to, and doesn’t understand your plan of care. They just need to know that you know what the problem is and what it will take to get better.
Most stop at this point, but every visit is an opportunity to improve the patient experience journey. The same things mentioned above apply to every visit: wait time, effective treatments, and customer service by the support staff. Most offices love patients who improve, but when there is a lack of improvement, there is an opportunity to have another touchpoint in the patient journey. How you respond makes a difference, just like when you get an overcooked steak at a restaurant; how they handle it either improves your satisfaction or decreases it.
Patient workshops aren’t just a way to bring in more patients, they are a way to educate your patients. I also send out a personal newsletter once a month that talks about my family, which I tie into the month’s theme. It discusses health tips and has a shareable handout they can give to a friend.
I know this can be overwhelming at first, and you may not know where to start. I usually begin with easily repeatable steps first, which is why I leverage automated messages. Wait times can be fixed with better scheduling. Plan a pre-shift huddle before your shift to look for potential bottlenecks and solve them before the shift. When things don’t go right, briefly discuss what went wrong and what could have been done differently to improve it without pointing blame on others.
Next time you have a great experience at another business, take notes and see how you could apply that to the patient first visit in your own practice.
NAOTA HASHIMOTO, DC, is the co-founder of TrackStat, activity-based software that gives real-time feedback of where your patients are so you can identify positive or negative trends in your practice. This tracking boosts your stats and features automated emails, texts, reviews and scheduling to solve all of the chiropractor’s needs. Visit trackstat.org/pt-tracker for a free tracking spreadsheet for your practice.