It’s very possible that the size of a practice is directly proportional to the number of times a doctor and staff “touch” patients. I am not talking about physically touching people. I am talking about touching patients mentally and emotionally. The ability to make patients feel welcome, important, appreciated, special, respected, happy, comfortable and safe is often as important as the physical treatment they receive in a chiropractic office.
Generating these feelings in patients is relatively easy. It does not require extensive training or high-tech equipment. Being courteous, genuinely concerned, well-mannered, thoughtful and sympathetic are all important qualities that can help you touch people. Fortunately, these traits come naturally to many people involved in healthcare. To accentuate the natural expression of these important traits, there are some office procedures you can implement.
Friendly Greeting And Smile
Each patient should receive at least two welcomes during an office visit. The first should be from the chiropractic assistant managing the front desk. The CA should acknowledge patients as soon as they arrive. A simple welcome, such as: “Hi, good to see you today; please sign in and the doctor will be right with you,” starts the office visit off on a positive note. If the front desk CA is on the phone or busy with other patients, a friendly smile and wave can also have a positive effect.
As the doctor, you should also greet patients on each visit with a friendly hello and a smile. Don’t get caught in the philosophy that discourages doctor-patient interaction and one-on-one contact in order to see more patients during the day. It is important to greet the patient each visit, regardless of the number of times that patient has visited the practice. You can greet the patient, and ascertain the patient’s progress and subjective information without allowing the patient to dominate the conversation or slow down your schedule. This is usually done by positioning the patient where you can begin the exam and treatment process immediately following the greeting. That way, discussing the patient’s progress and subjective findings can occur as you perform a routine pre-adjustment examination.
Greetings from the front desk CA and the doctor are usually the most important interactions the patient will receive. However, all staff members should make a habit of acknowledging every patient as they encounter them. A friendly greeting and smile can make all the difference between a positive patient experience and a mediocre one.
Use The Patient’s Name
Names often identify our ethnic and family origins. It should come as no surprise that most people take great pride in their names. Remembering a person’s name and using it correctly are important when it comes to adding the personal touch. This includes pronouncing and spelling the name correctly. If a patient has a name that is difficult to pronounce, ask her to pronounce the name several times, and then practice saying the name yourself. Expressing an interest in the correct pronunciation of a patient’s name will definitely impress her. If necessary, spell out the name phonetically on the patient’s chart for future reference.
Always address the patient in the manner he prefers. If the patient has a specific title, such as Doctor or Reverend, and would like you to use it, always be sure to do so. Some patients, especially older patients, may favor the use of Mr. or Mrs. with their last name and do not wish to be called by their first name. Nicknames or initials are also commonly preferred over proper names by many patients. Regardless of the manner the patient prefers to be addressed, his preference should be highlighted on all charts and other records.
New Patient Videos
New patient videos that introduce chiropractic care and initial chiropractic office procedures help make patients comfortable about their decision to seek chiropractic care. Three opportunities are available during the processing of the patient to show a video. The first occurs after the patient has completed the initial paperwork, just before seeing the doctor. The second occurs after X-rays have been taken, and the patient is waiting while the staff processes the X-rays. The third is to show the new patient video just before the report of findings. Most new patient videos address many of the patients’ initial concerns and are only six to 10 minutes long. Choose the one that works best for you. Removing some of the mystery surrounding chiropractic can help put the patient at ease.
Doctor’s First Call
Calling new patients the evening after their first adjustment is a great way to establish good rapport. Usually, the only phone calls a patient receives from a doctor are in response to calls placed previously by the patient. When you initiate the call, it is completely unexpected and most impressive. The purpose of these phone calls is to ask patients how they are feeling after the adjustment to assure them they are responding as expected and to reinforce home care instructions.
Patients respond to their first adjustment in one of three ways. There is either no change in symptoms, symptoms are improved, or symptoms are exacerbated. With this in mind, it is easy for you to respond to a patient during one of these phone calls with the expression, “That’s what I expected.” You can assure patients who do not see an immediate change in symptoms that it’s still early in care and that change will come. Assuring the patient that chiropractic care is a process and not a single event is important. You can confirm improved symptoms as a good sign and encourage the patient to continue to follow the plan of care for best results. Finally, for those patients experiencing slight exacerbation’s, you can assure the patient that post-adjustment soreness is common and can redefine home care instructions.
Compliment Your Patients
Compliments are a good way to make the patient feel important, special and appreciated. Compliment patients who are always on time or who stick to their appointment schedules. Make a positive comment about a patient’s knowledge and belief in chiropractic care. Tell a patient how much you appreciate her willingness to refer friends and family. Acknowledge a patient’s understanding of his insurance coverage and his willingness to make sure your office is properly reimbursed. Commend a patient for being eager to return to work after an injury.
Thank You For Referring
The nicest compliment someone can pay a doctor and the doctor’s staff is the referral of a friend or family member for care. When someone expresses this degree of confidence in the practice, she should receive a special thank you. The minimum expression of gratitude should consist of a card or letter thanking the referring person. Some practices provide a free checkup or adjustment as a thank you for a referral. A single rose, a T-shirt, or other small gifts are also used by some practices as a thank you.
Including a referring patient’s name on the office referral board or in practice newsletters are also good ways to show appreciation for referrals. Most people like to see their name in print. Always be sure to ask permission to post the name in order to avoid conflicts concerning confidentiality. And any token of appreciation should be small enough to not be construed as paying for the “value or volume of referrals,” which is against federal law.
Saying You’re Sorry
Apologizing for any inconvenience or office mishap is simply good manners. If you run behind schedule and patients are forced to wait for an unreasonable amount of time, you and your staff should apologize. The apologies should be issued even if the circumstances were unavoidable. Waiting time is one of the top complaints patients express about healthcare. Patients feel that their time is just as important as the doctor’s and can become greatly offended if their time is not valued.
If a patient is overcharged or his insurance is filed incorrectly, apologize. If a patient is inconvenienced by a scheduling mistake made by the office staff, apologize. There is no need to overdo the apology or overcompensate for the patient’s inconvenience; simply point out you are aware of your mistake and say you are sorry.
Thank You Notes
Doctors and staff members often receive gifts from patients or their family members. This is especially common during the holiday season when baked goods, candies, and small gifts are received. Thank you notes should be available for you and your staff to send to express their appreciation for each and every gift. Thank you notes may be purchased at a local card shop or custom-designed by a local printer. Each message should be handwritten and signed.
When a patient receives an award, is promoted, appears in the local paper, reaches a special anniversary, or celebrates any special achievement or event, she should be congratulated. Many practices clip and laminate birth announcements, wedding announcements, honor roll lists, and other newspaper articles concerning patients and mail the items to the patient’s home. A short letter of congratulations should accompany the clipping.
If a patient tells you of a special event, a note of congratulations can be sent shortly after their visit. This lets the patient know you were listening to him, and that you appreciate him as a person and a patient.
Get Well/Sympathy Cards
If the patient experiences an illness and is homebound or hospitalized, a “get well soon” card is a nice personal touch. If the patient experiences the loss of a friend or loved one, a sympathy card is appropriate.
These ideas are simply guidelines.
It is impossible to be upbeat and smile all the time. It is also impossible to remember everyone’s name, contact every single patient after the first adjustment, to find a compliment for everyone, to remember to thank everyone, to know everything you should apologize for, to know when everyone should be congratulated or when everyone is ill or has suffered a loss.
It is possible, however, to try do your very best to notice and remember these items. Be sure to enlist the help of your staff in all of these areas. It really is true that little things can mean a lot. The emotional and mental benefits for your patients will be returned many times over.